Friday 3 January 2014

Monumental Roots in Science

Science 3 January 2014:
Vol. 343 no. 6166 pp. 18-23
DOI: 10.1126/science.343.6166.18

Monumental Roots

Michael Balter

Archaeologists are gaining a new perspective on why ancient Britons erected great henge and circle monuments like Stonehenge. Recent studies emphasize how the work of building monuments brought geographically dispersed communities together. Surprisingly, the stone circles were part of a package of innovation that began in Scotland's far northern Orkney Islands and later spread south to transform the British landscape.


  1. A link to a transcript would be good!

    Recognising that communities are linked and come from a far is a small step forward. The major stubbing block archaeologists have now to overcome is communication.

    How did they know when to come and how to get there?

    I see numerous 'intelligent' people wondering lost over the south downs walking from their car to a monument just a couple of miles away - even with GPS, maps and well marked paths. At the time of Stonehenge and Henges, the land would be full of dense forests not the manicured woodlands we see today!

    A 'monumental' problem?


  2. RJL,
    They knew the seasons, they knew the stars and they had good boats. Overland paths originally made by ancient hunters no doubt followed a water-based geography. Paths become byways, then roads. Family groups settle into stationary Clans and Clans become hamlets. They build a Monument and it then becomes a village - all found on or near these roads.

    Communities such as these no doubt dotted the landscape up and down the Island, so take a left at Hump Hill and find Ugge's Village. They have a cozy little Henge there with 12 stones in it.

    Blick Mead is a perfect example of transient groups stopping near water to take stock of their situation, re-group any stragglers, make more tools and have lunch. There must have been a little-million of these convenient way-stations all over the place, and they clearly knew about these places for thousands of years.
    DNA and Strontium evidence provide a compelling glimpse into these patterns and trends. Almost secondary here is the 'how' of it. It's more about the clear evidence of them actually doing it.

    Out on a limb thinking supposes Rites-of-Passage, selecting spouses, or just plain chewing the fat with people you haven't seen since last year. Mrs Ugge gets to visit her mother and father. Recipes are exchanged, the latest fashions gloated over, patterns on the pottery are reviewed, new tools, carpentry tips and a host of other things that are socially recognizable today and evidential from then certainly occurred at these times and places.
    See also Coneybury Henge and Windmill Hill.

    Hardscrabble hunting-and-gathering from ancient days evolved into Holiday Time and there was certainly 'Religious' social arcs for this continuity, because who in their right minds would elect to live in the harshness of the Orkneys?

    The evidence of violence we find is likely akin to rivalries between sports teams today, rather than outright regional conflict. Any fan of Rugby will be nodding their heads at this idea.

    The supposition for these Neolithic Monuments being a drawing-place for widely-flung communities has pretty strong legs and on-going investigation provides mounting evidence which supports a long term trend.


  3. Nice idea Neil - a little bit too much like 'little house on the prairie' for me!

    The interest on "Paths become byways, then roads" is the problem - if you have one path Village A to Village B - that's fine, but what happens when road A to B then forks off to village C you might get away with verbal directions if only one fork in the road but over a 20 - 30 mile track you are looking at 10+ villages, verbal directions would be hard to remember - so is this a 'lost civilisation' would wonder up and down tracks to and from villages trying to find the right one or was there some kind of navigation aid at the junction?

    The most interesting known prehistoric (and i'm sure he was not the only one) traveller is the Amesbury Archer from if not the Alps many hundreds of miles away. Did he 'stumble' on Stonehenge by accident or was he looking for the site? If he was, how did he get there with a dodgy knee? And who (especially at the start of his travels) directed him?

    "Excuse me monsieur do you know the way to Stonehenge" - Oui monsieur take the next boat to Hastings and go alone the A27 dirt road until you see Old Sarum then turn right..can't miss it!

    Also in forests (again not the woods you recognise today) in the wet season paths disappear and become overgrow in weeks, we are talking of a 50K population a thousand times smaller than today and so probably using the paths less. (according to the Ramblers Assoc 2.27million walk every week).


  4. Near you Robert, all one had to do is to follow the hilltops. From Hastings to near Rottingdean you follow the markers:

    start: Hastoings-- walk along the cost)- at Eastbnorne, tumuli lead you up the hill to Pashley Hill- upwards following the barrows to Bourne Hill -(then through Jevington)- Windover Hill -(through Alfriston)- Firle Beacon-(through Rodmel) - Swanborough (and from there to Rottingdean should you wish)

    The entire route is marked with neolithic barrows (together with a few smaller saxon ones). Each segment along the route has intermediate barrows (for locations where you can not see the final barrow). The barrows would have been bright white. From the majority of the barrows the sea can be seen to your left.

    It's difficult to get lost along this route Robert. The barrows are more difficult to see these days.

  5. Jon

    I completely agree!!

    Bright white barrows clearly marked the way of Neolithic pathways - looking at sites in Ireland I would suggest that thees barrows would have had 'standing stones' in the centre and if we look at Ireland to stones that have been less abused or destroyed as boundary markers through the work of Sean Moriarty and his publication 'Petroglyphs, the Art of Ancient Landscapes is correct the standing stone would have been a 'relief map' of the area.

    Clearly, this is a precedent of the Roman use of the 'mile stone' to achieve the same objective.


  6. Like it's predecessor there are many problems with "'Petroglyphs, the Art of Ancient Landscapes " but more to the point it is not about standing stones. The motifs found on the engravings are missing from huge swathes of Britain and Ireland and are rarely found on standing stones .

  7. Now, now, Sherlock - I know you don't get on with Moriarty but his work is valid!!

    There are large 'swathes' of milestones missing and they are less than 2000 years old and your ignoring that over a 6000 year period erosion would be immense. Archaeologists do not look for or have the finance to scan isolated stones for carve marks that would no doubt prove the theory. Even so, there are some well known stones (like the Slaughter Stone) that have been scanned and show original sculpted features as well as modern pagan hacking.



  8. The "work " is riddled with errors .
    The vast majority of rock art is not discovered by archaeologists .
    Similar theories have been suggested since the 19 th C ,all have been refuted .
    The Slaughter Stone was dressed , that is not the same as being engraved in the tradition of Atlantic rock art

  9. I would suggest that thees barrows would have had 'standing stones' in the centre

    Unlikely in most of the cases. I have tested (using non destructive equipment) the surface layers of some barrows in that area and found an unusual construction signature: In the case of these barrows, this signature would not show up if there had been a standing stone.

  10. Jon

    Most barrows (particularly over south downs) have been plundered by Victorian "archaeologists" and in some case refilled in others the excavation holes just left. You need to bear in mind that only Neolithic barrows would have this structure - the later barrows are just copies in homage to their ancestors who were unaware of their original use and hence the funeral remains.

    What equipment do you use?


  11. "he later barrows are just copies in homage to their ancestors who were unaware of their original use and hence the funeral remains."
    There is an implication that Neolithic barrows did not have burials ,which is obviously wrong .
    Another is that the BA barrow builders and everyone since , apart from you , have not been aware of the "original use " .Whatever that "use" may be , we can be sure there will be no evidence for it .

  12. "There is an implication that Neolithic barrows did not have burials ,which is obviously wrong "

    Is that right Sherlock?

    So why do none of the Neolithic Barrows have burials in the middle of the barrow? ceremonial, religious or another archaeological fantasy?


  13. Must you continue with the names Davis , by all means play at Dan Brown characters in the playground but it gets tiresome around adults .

    There are countless Neolithic barrows with burials that date from prior to the construction of the mound .

    1. Sorry Sherlock wrong again!

      Dan Browns Character is Robert Landon (no middle name) mine is Robert John Langdon - google 'Robert Langdon' and you will get 50+ people with the same name.

      I have a face, a name and even a shop where people visit and buy my books and question me in person directly on my hypothesis - All you have is an anonymous name to hide your embarrassment when you get it wrong - as in this case.... name one?


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  15. Rob Davis , I think you are having another problem , mention one example where I got it wrong .
    On the other hand we can list quite a number of cases of where you are wrong .
    A wee list of Neolithic round barrows with primary internments .
    In the Stonehenge area Winterbourne Stoke G 5, G37, G54 and G56 .
    Elsewhere .Norton Bavant 06 ,Callis Wold ,Linch Hill corner ,Boghead ,
    Pitnacree , Duggleby Howe

    1. OK - lets look at Winterbourne Stoke then!

      Oh look it's a Bronze age cemetery what a surprise!! - for goodness sake it's even got a Bronze age coffin in G5 - are you having problems following my conversation with jon, Sherlock?

      "You need to bear in mind that only Neolithic barrows would have this structure - the later barrows are just copies" - the Neolithic dates we are looking at coincide with the introduction of agriculture as surplus would be traded for other goods and hence the need for the journey and markers. So we are looking for barrows that date from 4500BC to 3000BC - not bronze age!! as the main routes by then would have been established for over a thousand years!

      Its rather elementary if you have a deductive mind!


    2. Describing the Winterbourne Stoke group as being BA is like describing Stonehenge as being BA , which isn’t quite the full story .
      Look at the basic description , see the term Neolithic ?.
      Odd that you didn’t manage to mention the other examples ,which have no BA associations . Looks like I’ll have to spell it out . Check the links by clicking on them and note the mention of Round Barrow associated with the word Neolithic even you might manage to appreciate that the association means that the barrow in question is Neolithic complete with burials . .

      Read this general comment related to round barrows look at the number and note the term Neolithic .

      Round barrows in the Neolithic contained primary burials as I had mentioned earlier ,this is falsifiable and can be proven . The waymarking ,standing stone ,barrow nonsense is not falsifiable and is merely another fantasy .

    3. Don't have time to waste on pointless exercises to appease the deluded sadly Sherlock!

      We have already pointed out 'original' barrow markers - the North and South Barrows at Stonehenge. Both have centre holes for the Standing stones and none had bodies underneath.

      The fact that a majority of Barrows do not have any form of burials within them would normally suggest (to intelligent scientists) that primary burials were not the object of these monuments - but clearly archaeologists do not full into this category.


    4. The usual response when confronted with evidence contrary to your fantasies is either to ignore it or make some attempt at squirming around it . The latter on this occasion .
      “Don’t have time on pointless exercises “ a euphemism for ,incapable of responding .
      You had said “So why do none of the Neolithic Barrows have burials in the middle of the barrow? “
      Now that you have seen the evidence proving that comment deluded you decide to change the quantity to majority of barrows ,ignore Neolithic and introduce a qualifier ,”not the object “ . Yet again you got it wrong .Stick to what your’e good at Hudson ,making sandwiches and cleaning the rooms .
      The north and south "barrows " as you have been told before , are not barrows , we wouldn’t necessarily expect to find burials in them .

    5. "The north and south "barrows " as you have been told before , are not barrows"

      Well that perfectly sums up your argument Sherlock!


    6. I did wonder if you would comprehend the use of quotes on barrow , clearly not .
      In even simpler language .
      The features that are commonly referred to as the North and South barrows at Stonehenge are no more barrows than Avebury is circular (although often described as a stone circle ) . Those interested in the monument fully understand this and when referring to the features tend to give the benefit of the doubt to listeners , once again clearly a mistake in your case .
      It appears you are one of those that have to be told more than three times before it finally sinks in .
      A further problem with your post is that the quoted comment had little to do with any argument , it was just pointing out another of your errors noted along with the primary one i.e."none of the Neolithic Barrows have burials in the middle of the barrow " which , as expected , has been avoided .
      Do a bit of study in between the sandwich making Hudson /Davis .

  16. Whatever that "use" may be , we can be sure there will be no evidence for it .

    Well. that may not be strictly true. Some of the barrows (obviously not most) are unusual in that they are correctly located to perform specific functions. The best case construction for this purpose would leave a trace which would still exist after a few thousand years. Obviously to determine if the trace really exists would require destructive testing: The monuments involved are Scheduled, so this testing can not be done.

    However, a secondary effect of this type of construction would be a significant increase in certain properties of the soil surface. These can be picked up by non-destructive testing. These properties do exist. The scale of difference actually detected is quite significant. The highest 'dummy' test, in a similar setting only achieving a value about 25% of the figures typically found on the mounds in question. Typically dummy areas only achieve 10% of the values at the mounds in question.

    I've contacted the people who look after the monuments. Didn't hear back so have shelved further inquiry into it.

    All the best


  17. PS. What's interesting about this is that the tests I've been using should, almost by definition, have lower values than natural random sample areas: Man made structures should automatically lower the values unless something quite special was done during the construction phase.

  18. PPS the reason I'm being vague about the tests and locations is that I don't really want to encourage anyone to go there and to do the destructive tests. You know where they are and what tests were done G: You may not remember (been so long since we chatted about it)

    1. Thank you - interesting method!

      I have a walking/sword cane with a very thing blade - not only is it good for maiming annoying archaeologists like Sherlock (joke!) but it can penetrate the top soil effectively showing the depth and constancy of the chalk mound underneath.

      If the blade stops its not been disturbed (I have several prods) if it slips in the mound has been disturbed in the near past - a 4000 year old chalk mound would have compressed and be solid.

      This is not destructive method although i'm sure Tim would chase me off if I tried this on the North or South Barrows at Stonehenge (and these do still have the standing stone markers visible as previous posts show - northern barrow points to Robin Hood's ball and Avebury and the south barrow to Old Sarum).


  19. Jon , The mention of "use" was directly related to the comment "barrows are just copies in homage to their ancestors who were unaware of their original use " so there will be no evidence from the source of that comment .

  20. Tim might chase you , I would do something else more destructive but comical , and not only to the hat .

    BTW you can't even get the Dan Brown character right .
    "Dan Browns Character is Robert Landon "
    check again .

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    2. OK lets try again!

      Dan Browns character is Robert Langdon (no middle name)

      Mine is Robert John Langdon - notice the word JOHN. Now do tell me if they are the same person Sherlock??

      RJL (note the J!)

  21. So you are not a character from a work of fiction after all .

    Just as Neolithic barrows had burials , you have also learnt how to spell the fictitious character's name , it had a G after all ,
    Hudson is so much more fitting though ,(the sandwiches and the cleaning ) , don't you think ?, at least Doyle can write .The Dan Brown connection is very unfortunate , nobody would borrow a name from such a source knowingly ,would they ?
    btw , your'e still having problems differentiating between deduction and induction .
    Not much to do with Stonehenge though .


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