Tag Archives: National Trust

Avebury Session 5: The Sanctuary & Ridgeway Barrows – 16 Feb 2018

Photos and text by Shane Faulkner

Awaiting us this morning as we all converged in the Ed room was another nice healthy buffet (courtesy of the lovely Yvette). This week’s featured fruit was the juicy Blood Orange. After everyone had arrived we settled down to some pre-outing talks.

Today we talked about aspects of archaeology.  We discussed tangible cultural heritage, for example things that can be touched.  We moved on to talking about intangible heritage i.e. songs, beliefs. Knowledge/knowhow, communications (language, instruments, visual, signs), myths, legends and folklore. Within the discussion, Yvette mentioned to a very interesting example of a language form. This was the whistling language called Silbo gomera, of La Gomera, Canary Islands. Well worth a look. We finished in the ed room hearing of archaeology as an ever evolving entity, all thanks to novel thinking and advances in transferable science and technology.

As in previous weeks, I again car shared with different members of the group. As we were setting off, I was asked if I would listen to music created, sung and played by one group member. I have to thank the person now, for what was a really emotionally moving journey. On arriving at Overton Hill/Ridgeway car park, I listened to a second song, this one taking me off into the distance with tears in my eyes. Thank you to this person for feeling you could share these personal lyrics with me! I will never forget that.

From the car park we headed for the road. We were somewhat behind the rest of the group at this point when, coincidently, and relating to the earlier talk about intangibles, there appeared to be some Gomeran sightseers, trying to communicate and sign with us?  To the sound of whistles, I crossed the very precarious part of the A4, to reach the sanctuary of the Sanctuary.

We all gathered around a very knowledgeable Briony, who brimmed with passion for her subject and filled us with understanding of where we stood.  I walked around the Sanctuary trying to imagine what it once may have looked like and tried to understand the reason/s for its use & position on this hillside. Very compelling. 

The sanctuary site once stood as a concentric ring of wood and stone, built in phases of wooden posts possibly then moving on to stone circles. The posts have long since disappeared and according to William Stukeley, the remaining stones were removed from the site between 1723-24AD. One theory, mentioned by volunteer Steve, suggests the removed stones were used to help build a farmhouse and wall within West Kennet. Today contemporary concrete blocks mark the sites of wooden poles and also of the stone holes. The site joined to the Avebury Henge by the processional way of the West Kennet Avenue. The entrance is to the west of the outer circle and consists of three larger stones. The exact purpose of the Sanctuary is uncertain, with many theories being passed around. I will leave the interpretation up to yourselves.

There are some great panoramas of the surrounding area to be had from this location. Looking down the eastern slope, I pictured an avenue of stones adjoining the remains of the existing avenue and tried to position myself, walking side by side, with the peoples of those times. I tried to imagine what it may have been like. I looked up and took a picture of this Yellowhammer, a bird that most likely was observed by these peoples as they walked this hill top long ago.

Crossing back over the A4 with our life in our own hands dodging roman chariots (me and my imagination!) we visited the Bronze Age barrow cemetery known as Seven Barrows.  The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Seorfon Beorgas’ (In actuality, the site really consists of twelve round barrows). Ten of the twelve barrows are situated on the north side of the A4, the other two being to the south of the road. We had visited these last two barrows first. I became aware of the bowl barrow south of the Sanctuary. This barrow had been flattened much by agriculture but originally had a diameter of 40m and a height of 3m. The barrow contained no evidence of a ditch or remains. (see pic below). Adjacent to the Sanctuary lies a bowl barrow, this example was originally surrounded by a ditch feature. The barrow contained an inhumation burial, a dagger and axe, a pin and a tree trunk coffin – that is, I’ve read. We didn’t actually excavate it ourselves! …wasn’t time. 

The prominent mounds to the north of the road consist of the five barrows, four are examples of bell barrows, with a smaller fifth bowl barrow in between. All of these barrows contained cremation remains. The general construction of these barrows consisted of building material up and around bodies/remains within. The barrows had secondary use by peoples of other periods spanning hundreds of years. Often, later surface burials or burials nearby were created. 

Briony also showed us the site of the old roman road and some special burial mounds. These included a Bronze Age bowl barrow, a Saxon/pagan inhumation cemetery and lastly, three unique Roman burial mounds. This portion of the site consists of a rare mix of burial mounds from a mix of differing time periods. The older Neolithic Bronze Age bowl barrow, is of a rarer form reminiscent of Beaker period styles seen in Wales. The three Roman burial mounds positioned next to the roman road, are said to be a very unique occurrence to Britain. Were these romans inspired to take on local customs? Briony then showed how these roman barrows were encircled with post holes creating a fence. They contained cremation pits and burial remains. The Anglo Saxon secondary editions to the site contained weapons and remains. In the opposite direction across a field, beech covered Bronze Age round barrows were seen. The one photographed below being an example of a well preserved bell barrow. 

It was then everyone’s favourite sing along time. There were no skylarks present this week, I guess the larks knew they couldn’t compete with us! We all sang a live rendition of ‘living bell’ courtesy of Yvette, with some fun and games mixed in courtesy of Danny. 

Afterword’s, I took some time out to breathe in my surroundings. I noted the barrows studding the landscape with a soft, non-angular, lush green undulating flow, highlighted by a bright blue winter skyscape, just lovely.  I must come back and take photos under different settings.

We walked back along the Ridgeway to the car park chatting. There is a nice familiarity growing within the group as we get to know each other.  I got stopped and had a chat with an interesting local man who was living in a large truck. He knew a lot about the local sites and mentioned his adventures with a metal detector, he had yet to find that elusive roman gold hoard! We all drove back to the ed room to have lunch and conclude this week’s session.

Next week: West Kennet Avenue – Night Walk!

TAG 2017: Human Henge Presentation by Dr Vanessa Heaslip

This is a presentation made by Dr Vanessa Heaslip, Deputy Head of Research Department of Nursing & Clinical Science at Bournemouth University, at TAG 2017 about her research into Human Henge’s health and social outcomes for participants.


TAG 2017: Walking with Intent: Culture therapy in historic landscapes

Laura Drsydale, Director, Restoration Trust

There are these moments in time and space, these conjunctions, when ideas coalesce, and I wonder if TAG 2017 is one of them. Where we can talk about health, psychogeographies, forgetting, time, memory, poetry and place, and have a sense of resonance and reciprocity across our overlapping interests.

But I am at the end before the beginning, since resonance and reciprocity are words from the vocabulary of group analysis, to which I will come later.

I was at the session on archaeology and mental health at TAG 2015, when we were developing Human Henge. I watched the YouTube video of Dr Rathouse’s talk last night, and it reminded me how helpful the papers and conversations were to our thinking. This is a shared endeavor, so as a non-archaeologist, thank you TAG.

Now, I will tell you something about the Restoration Trust. We are a small charity that supports people to engage with heritage, art and culture so that their mental health improves. We call this culture therapy. We are usually producers – we broker partnerships, develop projects, find the money and manage the project.

Our current heritage foci are archaeology and the historic landscape, and archives. Why? Well, it’s partly pragmatic – availability and a culture of public entitlement to information in both arenas. But it is also because both archives and archaeology have a delicious tension between the quest for knowledge and the impossibility of total success in that quest. It is there, in the space between knowing and not knowing that our projects make a difference, for there is where imagination lives. More of that later too.

Heritage and mental health are certainly politically congruent at the moment. Mental health demand is rising, services are shrinking. National and local government need new ways to help people with their mental health, so all the various organs of the state, including lottery distributors, are on the case. Arts are front runners, for example with the report Creative Health published by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts and Health. Museums are catching up through the work of Professor Helen Chatterjee and her colleagues, but the wider heritage lags behind, it lacks a champion. Yet here it is, all around us, visible, hidden or intangible; and the thought of therapeutic landscapes lies deep within us.

Our two current landscape projects are Human Henge at Stonehenge and now at Avebury, and Burgh Castle Almanac at Burgh Castle roman fort in Norfolk. Both projects are largely HLF funded. Burgh Castle Almanac kicks off properly in January.  It is a year-long 24-session programme – that happens two years running – of walking, talking and making at the Castle, and at Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth. Norfolk Archaeological Trust is the lead partner.

Human Henge you will hear about from Professor Darvill and Dr Heaslip, and I hope also from members who are here at TAG. Briefly, it is a programme of 10 weekly walks for a facilitated group accompanied by archaeologists and musicians. Pilot 1 ran from October to December 2016, Pilot 2 from January to March 2017. In January we will run Pilot 3 at Avebury, to see how a different site impacts on the process. There is masses of information about Human Henge online at www.humanhenge.org

I would like to pay tribute to the whole astonishing network of participants, support workers, volunteers, board members, funders, partners, experts, creatives, researchers and staff who are the project; they, along with the sites, the collections, the weather, the administration, the biscuits, make up the Human Henge matrix, to use group terminology once more.

Both Human Henge and Burgh Castle Almanac meet our Criteria for Success, listed on the slide.

Let’s take one of these – Groupwork is the core.

Foulkes[1] described what happens when a collection of individuals meets routinely together with someone he named a conductor:

“They will begin to live, feel, think, act and talk more in terms of ‘we’ than in terms of ‘I’, ‘you’, and he’. At the same time, and I want to stress this point, the individuals do not become submerged but, on the contrary, show up their personal characteristics more and more distinctly within the dynamic interplay of an everchanging and often highly dramatic scene. As soon as this little sample community shows signs of organization and structure in the way described, we will call it a group.”

This is what we are trying to achieve in Human Henge.

So over 10 weeks of sustained and regular involvement within a context of safe frameworks and practice, and with expert facilitation, in this case from Yvette Staelens with Daniel O’Donoghue, a group begins to form. How does a historic landscape help? Or rather how does being in a historic landscape in the company of people who know a lot about it help? Because that is one of our criteria – privileged access to real cultural assets AND expertise.

It is only human to be in nature, to use our bodies and minds, to connect with each other, to be creative. And it is certainly better than some of the alternatives, such as loneliness, boredom and sadness. But why the historic bit?

It is not a universal prescription, for strange as it may seem, not everyone is interested in the past! But for those who are, and who can find the strength to face the daunting prospect of a project like Human Henge, historic landscapes are one way to face down mental illness’s erosion of the self.

Mental illness attacks space. For example it fills mental space with futile rumination or terrifying psychosis, or it negates it with a horrible combination of restlessness and passivity in depression. It makes space malignant so that it cannot be traversed to connect with others. It compromises time as it telescopes the past into the present with all-consuming flashbacks. Without space to think, to act, nothing creative can happen, there can be no imagination, no relating. A group experience of a historic landscape illuminated by people who know about it open ups multiple vistas of temporal, topographical and psychological space. It is a short cut to the imagination.

When people feel safe enough to take the enormous risk of embarking on a journey in both time and space, taking part in a strange wellbeing experiment in some fields, albeit fields that are among the most famous on the planet, with people they have never met, that’s when they may do things they never thought possible. It is when, hopefully, they can enjoy the richness of their own humanity.

I will leave you with this poem by Chris Jessup.


[1] S. H. FOULKES (1946) “ON GROUP ANALYSIS” Originally published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 27:46‐51, 1946. Later in a shortened version in Selected Papers: Psychoanalysis and Group Analysis, pp. 137‐144, eds. M. Pines y E. Foulkes, Karnac Books, Londres: 1990.