Saturday 29 October 2016

On the Absence of Sarsens in the Stonehenge Landscape

It has been mooted that some of the sarsens at Stonehenge were found in the immediate landscape and that solution hollows in the chalk indicate where they were. It seems likely that the Heelstone was and that it is erected in its hollow, but there is no evidence for where any of the other sarsens in the monument came from. There are a few other larger stones such as the Cuckoo stone in the wider area though. It has been posited that various hollows in the landscape are solution hollows from whence stones were extracted. A scan from The Stonehenge Landscape by Bowden et al  shows this:

Against this is the absence from the landscape of smaller sarsens, in the landscape around Avebury, for instance, everywhere and every old structure has sarsens. Around Stonehenge there are only a very few sarsen pebbles in the fields.

The Hidden Landscape project which scanned under the ground found none, below is their scan of the area in the diagram above. It wasn't just at Durrington Walls they didn't find buried sarsens.

Click to enlarge pictures.

I think it is unlikely there were any large sarsens in any number near Stonehenge.

Thursday 20 October 2016

The strange case of the dig for the Stonehenge tunnel

Following my concerns about the exploratory excavations for the Stonehenge Tunnel and how if the tunnel portal was built there and it was floodlit it would impact on the winter sunset solstitial view from Stonehenge  Mike Pitts takes me to task on for saying that position A1 on the plan below (borrowed from his blog posting so we are all using the same plan) is on the Winter Solstice Sunset Alignment.

As he points out it is important to point out that the position of the tunnel portal hasn't been decided but a plan with it at A1 is one of the options and that it "scored highly on its OUV impact"... "OUV. That’s “outstanding universal value”, a concept that is taken very seriously in assessing any changes in the landscape. How would a tunnel portal so close to the stones affect OUV, bearing in mind floodlights at night (if such things were visible, they’d be a problem all year round, not just on midwinter day)? I’d say very badly."

The OUV component that concerns the sightlines is discussed on the UNESCO page

The integrity of sightlines within the Stonehenge WHP

In assessing the integrity of these sightlines today, we make the assumption that they were largely kept clear in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, so that the monuments could be used in the way in which we presume they were used, with the sun or moon rising or setting behind distant horizons visible from the monuments themselves. The sightlines are shown in (this figure).

Astronomical sightlines at Stonehenge World Heritage Site and the surrounding area, with their end-points on horizons. These should be treated as indicative rather than necessarily exact. The WHS area is shaded in yellow. Produced by Nick Hanks, Historic England, February 2015. © Crown Copyright and database right 2015. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900

Sightline from Stonehenge looking southwest (midwinter sunset)

There is a growing consensus that the midwinter sightline was more important than the midsummer one, as discussed above. Today the integrity of this sightline, and its intermediate ridge lines and final horizon, is marred. Looking out from Stonehenge, the first problem is the A303 (0.5 km), which runs relatively close to the monument, and presents a considerable visual and noise intrusion to this alignment. Moving further south-west, the round barrow known as the Sun Barrow—which is on the alignment and on the Normanton Down ridge line—is intact (0.9 km), but the sightline then quickly runs into the plantation known as Normanton Gorse (1.1 km), which obscures it. Still further south-west is another plantation known as The Diamond (2.2 km), before the alignment continues towards the place that would form the visible horizon from Stonehenge in the absence of intervening vegetation, at Oatlands Hill to the west of the A360 road (and outside the WHP) (4.4 km). This horizon is also obscured by yet another plantation, at The Park. The sightline probably ends at the site of a much later Iron-Age/Romano-British settlement. It is difficult to determine the exact place because the various obstructions mean that we must rely upon computer modelling.

As closely as I can I have overlaid the Ordnance Survey map with position A1 and the UNESCO Southwest Sightline. My calculation is that the centre of the sightline is 60m from the centre of A1. With the margin of error, the width of the sightline and the size of a tunnel portal I would say that is pretty close to the portal being on the sightline, too close for my liking.

Click pictures to enlarge.

It is worth pointing out that it isn't just the central line at Stonehenge. The Station Stones also align to the midwinter sunset so one could fairly consider the solstitial line at the monument to be nearly 100m wide.

Further evidence for the provenance of the Stonehenge bluestones

U–Pb zircon age constraints for the Ordovician Fishguard Volcanic Group and further evidence for the provenance of the Stonehenge bluestones

New U–Pb zircon ages from rhyolite samples of the Fishguard Volcanic Group, SW Wales, confirm a Middle Ordovician (Darriwilian) age for the group. One of the samples is from Craig Rhos-y-felin, which has recently been identified on petrological and geochemical grounds as the source of much of the debitage (struck flakes) at Stonehenge. Analysis of a Stonehenge rhyolite fragment yields an age comparable with that of the Craig Rhos-y-felin sample. Another Stonehenge fragment, thought to come from orthostat (standing stone) 48 and on petrographical grounds to be derived from the Fishguard Volcanic Group (but not Craig Rhos-y-felin), yields an age also consistent with a Fishguard Volcanic Group source.

Bevins, Richard; Atkinson, Nicola; Ixer, Rob; Evans, Jane (2016): U–Pb zircon age constraints for the Ordovician Fishguard Volcanic Group and further evidence for the provenance of the Stonehenge bluestones. figshare.
Retrieved: 07 37, Oct 20, 2016 (GMT)

There is an excellent summary of the paper at which even I can understand.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Stonehenge Winter Solstice 2016 - Proposed Changes.

English Heritage are worried about increasing numbers of people attending the Winter Solstice -
"Our focus for 2016 is to develop a strategy to manage both the growth in attendance and the parking which will become the plan for Winter Solstice for the foreseeable future.... The increasing numbers attending the Winter Solstice (350 in 2000 to 7000 in 2015) affect your ability to have safe managed open access"
Strangely they claim 7000 for last year in the email but only 5000 on their website... and the number doesn't seem to be growing...

English Heritage:
The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year and the first day of the winter season. This year around five thousand people gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the winter solstice."

2012  Attendance: 5000   Peter Carson, Head of Stonehenge at English Heritage said: over 5000 people celebrated the winter solstice at Stonehenge this morning. The weather was particularly fine and the ancient stones were bathed in beautiful winter sunshine.

2013 Attendance: 3500  Kate Davies, who manages Stonehenge for English Heritage, said: "We were delighted to welcome over 3,500 people to Stonehenge to celebrate winter solstice.

2014 Attendance: 6400 6,400 people were at Stonehenge this morning to mark the winter solstice.This is twice the number who participated last year - Stonehenge managers say because it is dry, and schools are out for Christmas.
Kate Davies, Stonehenge General Manager, talks more about the enduring appeal of this ancient tradition.

2015  Attendance: 5000  
Around five thousand people gathered at Stonehenge this morning to celebrate the winter solstice. Braving wet and windy weather, visitors marked the arrival of the sun with pagan rituals and celebrations around the monument.

Susie Milbank, one of the visitors attending the celebrations, said: "This is my second winter solstice, and it is fabulous. The atmosphere here is absolutely incredible, and everyone here is so relaxed, peaceful, and happy. It is all very well-humoured".

18/10/2016 - Letter from English Heritage:

Winter Solstice is the second largest gathering for managed open access at
Stonehenge. Since 2000 we have seen attendances grow from 350 to more
than 7000, with over 1200 cars parked on and around site. Our focus for 2016
is to develop a strategy to manage both the growth in attendance and the
parking which will become the plan for Winter Solstice for the foreseeable
Part of our planning process includes consulting with those most affected by
what we do. In addition to working with local residents and landowners to
ensure that disruption to them is minimised, we want to involve those for
whom the solstices at Stonehenge are important.
For us to do this effectively, we ask that you do the following:
1. Please read through this document. We have explained here the
challenges we’re facing and laid out the rough plan that we’ve prepared
for 2016 for you to consider.
2. Please complete the attached questionnaire with your thoughts and
suggestions in response to our proposals.
The feedback you provide will shape our discussions at the Round Table Group meeting on the 3rd November.

We know that change is hard and that the decisions we make have an impact,
but throughout our planning for managed open access for solstice at
Stonehenge you, the members of the Round Table Group, and the groups you
represent remain an absolute priority. You are the groups and individuals for
whom free access began in 2000 and we continue to wholeheartedly support
your right to enter the stones at no charge during periods of open access. This
has not changed.
What has changed, however, or at least increased, are the challenges: some are
financial and some are logistical. Many of these challenges will be best
addressed through collaborative working with our partners - Wiltshire Council
and Wiltshire Police - and with you, members of the Round Table. We have
discussed options with the council and the police, and now we would
appreciate your input. It’s important to note, however that some of the things
outlined here are immovable – we have to work with what we’ve got.
What is affecting our planning:

Increasing attendances
· The increasing numbers attending the Winter Solstice (350 in 2000 to 7000
in 2015) affect your ability to have safe managed open access. That’s the
most important reason why we need to manage the numbers, not to
discourage those people for whom Stonehenge is spiritually important.
· More people mean that greater infrastructure and support is needed in
order to make it safe, and this increases the costs.
· Sadly, greater numbers of people mean damage is more likely in the
monument field itself which is at its most vulnerable during the winter
months. It took the ground over a month to recover from such heavy
footfall during last year’s Winter Solstice.
· We are not able to provide parking for the increasing number of cars that
turn up. Last year there were around 1200 cars: our car park takes 500
cars, there is no sizeable hard-standing for us to rent and turn into an
overflow car park and we cannot hire fields as the winter weather renders
fields unusable.
· As in previous years, the partners will apply for a TTRO on Byway 12.
However as damage and the resulting cost to Wiltshire Council of repairs
have increased significantly in recent years, we cannot depend on the
possibility of providing an area for gathering and parking as we have done in
the past whilst this closure is on. If it is not available, then the pressure on
parking is further increased.
· Last year we parked cars in Larkhill and this caused massive disruption for
local residents. As a result this space is not available for 2016 and is unlikely
to be an option again.

Financial Pressure
All of the organisations who support solstice operate within significant financial
constraints. As public sector bodies Wiltshire Council and Wiltshire Police are
under tremendous pressure to spend less not more. English Heritage has
recently become a not-for-profit charity where every penny earned (and saved)
is ploughed back into the conservation and preservation of hundreds of historic
and prehistoric sites and monuments in our care. It will in the future be
receiving no outside funding, save what donors voluntarily give it. This is a
formidable financial challenge, and a new one.
Each year managing safe and sustainable open access at Stonehenge for the
solstices and equinoxes costs English Heritage alone over £300, 000. While the
income raised from the parking charge we introduced for the Summer Solstice
made a small contribution to this significant outlay, the pressure remains the
same. And like us none of our partners can afford for the cost of solstice to

What we are proposing:
Because no solution to the increasing numbers and lack of available parking was
going to be easy, we began looking at options a few months ago. We need a
strategy that will serve for at least a few years, and as we cannot depend on the
byway remaining open for parking over the Winter Solstice period, we have
come up with the following as the basis of our parking strategy. As we saw
around 1200 cars parking for Winter Solstice last year, you will see that we are
currently significantly short:
1. Parking in the visitor centre car park. Disabled parking will be in this area
and there will be a disabled bus running, as usual, from the visitor centre.
Including disabled parking, there will be space for 500 vehicles in the
visitor centre car park. We will need to ensure that there is sufficient
lighting and staffing to make the whole of the car park safe.
2. Parking on a small piece of privately-owned hard-standing. This will
provide space for about 300 cars and there will be a park-and-ride bus
service from this parking area to the visitor centre. We will need to turn
this space into a safe car park with lighting and staffing.
3. Salisbury Reds public bus service from Salisbury to Stonehenge.
4. No parking will be allowed on the A344 – this is to maintain the Blue
Route, to ensure the safety of pedestrians who will be using the walkers’
lane, and to maintain the route for the disabled buses.

What we would like from you:
Attached is a questionnaire to help shape your thoughts and provide us with
feedback around parking at Winter Solstice.
This is your opportunity to let us know your thoughts on our proposals and, if
you would like, to make suggestions on how you think we might manage
numbers and how parking for Winter Solstice could work, given the limitations
we have outlined and the financial constrains within which we operate. We
would welcome thoughts on these questions emailed to
discuss all practical suggestions and comments that come in between now and
the end of the month, alongside the next steps, at the 3rd November Round
Table Group meeting.
We look forward to receiving your thoughts and seeing you in November.

Please have a think through these questions, within the context of the
limitations laid out above, and let us have your feedback by 30 October, emailed
to or posted to Lucy Barker,
Stonehenge Visitor Centre, Amesbury, Wilts, SP4 7DE.

Q1: Do you have any suggestions for additional parking locations?
Q2: What do you think we could do to reduce the number of cars coming to
site? We already encourage car-sharing and there is a public bus-service – is
there anything else we haven’t thought of?
Q3: Given the challenges outlined and the financial constraints within which the
charity and our partners operate please use this space to provide comments,
suggestions or feedback that will help us to manage costs whilst still providing
safe, free managed open access for Winter Solstice going forward.
Solstice is changing. We all need to work together to keep it special.
Thank you for taking the time to give us your feedback.

Tuesday 18 October 2016

Stone 40

 A friend provided me with two versions of a view of Stonehenge - 2016 and 1960

Click to enlarge

What struck me was the appearance of Stone 40 (a) in the middle foreground of the older picture and how it has disappeared into the grass today.

It gives a hint of a mortice hole half showing but it is probably just a trick of the light.

Cleal et al doesn't seem to have an entry for Stone 40 (a) but luckily there is a website that does: 

Friday 14 October 2016

The Largest Henge in The World

In April I walked round the largest Henge in the Wiltshire, and it happens to be the largest Henge in the World as well at 23 Ha. The interior is ploughed out but in places the bank and ditch are still spectacular. It has never been properly excavated and it has been described as Romano-British, and even as a Medieval Deer park, but on inspection I, along with David Field and David McOmish, consider it to be a Henge, probably of a similar age to Marden et al. with a river forming part of its boundary.

It is not Durrington Walls or Marden, who have been arguing over who is bigger probably ever since they were built. Here is the DSM Lidar of it. The Henge bank surrounds the two fields in the middle of the picture and mostly has trees on top of it.

LIDAR Composite DTM - 1m - Digital Terrain Model produced by removing objects from the Digital Surface Model. Attribution statement: © Environment Agency copyright and/or database right 2015. All rights reserved.

I was asked to keep its location and existence under my hat, but the two Davids reveal it in their excellent book Neolithic Horizons, which I can't recommend enough.  Get a copy!

Review of the Book:

Photos from my perambulation:

Click to embiggen

Friday 7 October 2016

Blick Mead Dog Tooth

Britain's first travellers found at the cradle of Stonehenge. 

Evidence recently discovered at the Blick Mead site in Amesbury has astounded archaeologists and yet again written another chapter in the history books of Mesolithic Britain.
Astonishingly a blunt tooth found at the site of Britain's first “ECO” house last Autumn, turned out to be that of a domesticated dog and whilst this in itself is not so unusual, when Durham University analysed the bone, they found that instead of it being a local animal to the area, it had in fact travelled more than 250 miles from York with its owner and more than 7000 years ago making this the earliest known traveller in Britain.
The discovery, in addition to beautifully crafted Flint tools found in 2011/2, a slate blade from West Wales and a piece of carved stone from the midlands (found in 2013) proves that this site, with its own constant temperature spring, wasn't just the place to live at the end of the last ice age, but was known by our ancestors widely across Britain. People were visiting Blick Mead time after time.
The Blick Mead team, led by David Jacques on behalf of the University of Buckingham have now found in excess of 35000 pieces of worked flint, over 3000 pieces of cooked bone, evidence of meals that included toad legs cooked salmon, trout and juniper berries, an “eco” home built around an uprooted tree and evidence of occupation since the end of the ice age, making it the oldest known continuous settlement in Britain.
The site itself sits alongside the A303, which is part of a government planned road improvement scheme. If approved, the government intend to bury the road at Stonehenge in a tunnel to prevent passing traffic being able to see the Stones, in hope that this improves the flow rate of vehicles to and from the West Country.
Andy Rhind-Tutt, Chairman of Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust, who have part funded the latest investigations maintains that a tunnel will serve no tangible purpose, causing irreversible destruction of one of the Worlds greatest untouched landscapes and has been in lengthy discussions with highways England over alternative solutions that give a much wider solution to South Wiltshire's road networks returning Stonehenge and Blick Mead to a national park and freeing up the trunk roads around it to help local regeneration.
"This is without doubt one of the greatest national discoveries ever made in the Stonehenge landscape and as we edge closer towards a road improvement plan that could see a disastrous ineffective tunnel for the A303 destroy this site, I desperately hope Historic England and National Trust recognise what a key site this is and ensure that it’s protected and preserved so that we and future generations can continue to discover and understand the history of Stonehenge, a once Royal site and life in Britain at the Ice Age.”

Thursday 6 October 2016

Secret Major Stonehenge Excavations For the Tunnel

Visible from the Long Barrow roundabout there is a major machine assisted excavation going on in the World Heritage Site just south of Normanton Gorse - the Google Aerial View is marked with a star where it is. This is where one of the Stonehenge tunnel entrances is planned  in one of the possible plans.

So I drove down the Byway to have a little look.

As I drove down a pickup spotted me and sped across as I stopped to take a snap from the Byway.

A very nice man, with a Wessex Archaeology jacket, asked what I was doing, said that he had to record everyone that drove up and down the byway as it was "sensitive"  excavating in the World Heritage  Site.

Looks like where the western tunnel portal will be has been decided....

Click pictures to enlarge.


Andy Rhind-Tutt makes the very valid point that if the western portal to the tunnel is built where Wessex Archaeology are digging at the moment the lights from the tunnel entrance and approach road will be directly in line with the winter solstice sunset, the most important view at Stonehenge. No more last flash as the sun goes down just an orange glow....
The site of the dig is marked with an orange triangle, and connects to the approach road marked with a thick orange line. The solstitial alignment is the thin line through the monument.

Monday 3 October 2016

The Date of Skipsea Castle Motte

Skipsea Castle is a Norman motte and bailey castle near the village of Skipsea, East Riding of Yorkshire, England. Built around 1086 by Drogo de la Beuvrière, it was designed to secure the newly conquered region, defend against any potential Danish invasion and control the trade route across the region leading to the North Sea. The motte and the bailey were separated by Skipsea Mere, an artificial lake that was linked to the sea during the medieval period via a navigable channel. The village of Skipsea grew up beside the castle church, and the fortified town of Skipsea Brough was built alongside the castle around 1160 to capitalise on the potential trade....

The motte, constructed from sand and gravel, was deliberately built on a natural glacial mound, making it appear unusually large. It is 100 metres (330 ft) in diameter and 11 metres (36 ft) high, with a 0.25 acres (0.10 ha) of space on the top, protected around the base by a 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) high bank and a ditch up to 10 metres (33 ft) wide, although when first built these would have been taller and deeper than today.[25] There was a timber keep on the motte, and possibly a stone gatehouse at the south-east corner, leading onto the earthwork causeway that crossed the mere south to link the motte with the bailey. The eastern causeway linked the motte with the church in Skipsea village....

Extending Histories: from Medieval Mottes to Prehistoric Round Mounds (‘The Round Mounds Project’ for short) is a three-year research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Reading and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC).

The Project, led by Dr Jim Leary, seeks to unlock the history of monumental mounds in the English landscape. Neolithic round mounds, such as Silbury Hill – the largest prehistoric mound in Europe, are among the rarest and lest well understood monuments in Britain. Recent work by Jim Leary at the medieval Marlborough Castle motte, Wiltshire, has shown it to be a Neolithic round mound which was reused in the medieval period, and raises the possibility that other castle mottes may have prehistoric origins.

And Skipsea Castle is one of the mounds he has examined, and he is excited about the date of it revealed by an extracted core from it.

Live on Radio 4 on 3rd October Jim Leary revealed it isn't a Norman Motte as it was dated to the Middle Iron Age. (Most of the other mounds he has examined are Norman). Is it a burial mound, analagous to some European ones? Of course whatever is under there is undisturbed and plans are underway to find out more.

More at

Photo by JThomas, CC BY-SA 2.0,