This exquisite image of the moon was taken by Adam Hinton during the Human Henge night walk along West Kennet Avenue on Friday 21st February.
Some beautiful and evocative drawings of places in Avebury’s ancient landscape that have been part of the Human Henge experience there. With thanks to artist Donna Songhurst.
Another beautiful photo, this time by Yvette Staelens
Photos and text by Shane Faulkner
This week’s session was quite a unique experience indeed, as we explored a nocturnal Avebury…
On arriving at Avebury, it was already cold and dark. We assembled in the public village carpark, especially eager for this week’s offerings. I personally, have never been around the stones at night, so I was glad of the opportunity and was looking forward to the experience. Above me, framed by eerie silhouetted branches, grey and misty clouds pushed through the cold night sky occasionally giving up an ephemeral, mystical treasure, the glowing crescent moon. We got clad in our cold weather apparel, had a brief catch up and chat before setting off. People appeared energised by the exciting and somewhat unknown adventure that lay ahead. With torches, head lights and phones at the ready, we made our way out towards the stones.
We traversed the south west sector of the henge, crossed the main road and entered the south east sector. Mist was starting to creep in all around us and the cold air was trying to bite. All of a sudden, out of the darkness ahead of me, appeared two huge grey figures. These figures stood sentry to a pathway yet trodden. Between them lay an invisible gateway, a portal, suggesting both start and ending. Slowly, more grey figures appeared to my side, flanking me as I preceded through the night.
Each figure grabbed my attention, their sense of presence was extremely powerful. As I approached the ‘gateway’, the huge grey figures loomed above and either side of me. I couldn’t help but feel honoured yet humbly uninvited as I committed to this path. The two huge entrance stones (no.s 1 & 98 – pictures below) mark the Southern entrance of the henge and the start of the ‘avenue’. Stone 98 is known as the ‘Devil’s Chair’. As the pathway winds and snakes down the edge of the hill you are greeted either side by animate forms. We were now all following the avenue of stones.
We stopped with Prof Tim Darvill at the top of West Kennet Avenue to talk about what the avenue might have represented for the early peoples. We tried to understand it through their eyes. We thought about its practical use and the possible symbolic meanings. What would the peoples have seen as they followed its winding path? Whether coming from the Sanctuary area or from the henge itself, there are many different and hidden perspectives as one travels its flowing length. Was the avenue used by many or just a select few? After contemplating these questions we preceded onwards.
More stones manifested out of the darkness, some of which were quite small; being the modern markers for where a stone would once have stood. One theory proposed by Keiller & Piggott is that the avenue & henge stones can be separated into male and female anatomical forms. These stones are labelled (Type a) and (Type b) respectively. The typical comparative example being stones 13a & 13b as seen below.
To my side, Waden Hill rose gently off to the right, hiding the western horizon. I stopped to touch one of the standing stones. Were the stones trying to speak to me? I tried to communicate with these sentient figures but I am as yet not fluent in the language.
On reaching the end of the restored section of the avenue we talked about the connection between the Neolithic peoples and their monuments to the cosmos.
The Neolithic people had already built up a considerable astronomical knowledge base from earlier times. They were very familiar with the heavens, the sun, moon and stars. These Neolithic people had none of the distractions and visual entertainment of today. The day and night skies were their windows, their TV screens, their pages of a book and they would have spent much time observing them. They would have witnessed the movements of the celestial bodies, of the stars and the galactic plane. They also would have witnessed strange repeating occurrences such as eclipses. It was an ever moving story, of life and death, rebirth, symbolism, spirituality, the celestial sphere was their very guidance. The peoples would have planted and harvested by these cycles. They would have planned daily events and ceremonial activities in tune with the heavens. The celestial cycles help track the passage of time. Looking within Archaeoastronomy, the night sky inspired the building of the monuments. The monuments may have mirrored the night sky, “as above, so below”. The peoples of this time were looking for their identity within the great cosmos.
We gathered around an image of the impressive Bronze Age artefact, the Sky Disc of Nebra (see image below). The disc is understood to represent an astronomical clock, bringing together both solar and lunar calendars. The gold leafed highlights represent the sun, moon, stars (Pleiades) and an arc. The arc is interpreted by some as a sun boat (the sun would travel the waters of the underworld by boat every night re-emerging from the waters at dawn). We compared it to a modern planisphere that Danny was discussing.
Luckily the cloud of earlier started to clear and the moon and stars revealed themselves. Another group member and I had brought telescopes, so we set these up so others could have a closer look at the night sky. We looked at the crescent moon and the shining Pleiades to peoples awe’s and wows. We also looked at the stars of Orion and the Orion nebula, the pole star Sirius, the constellations Gemini, Auriga, Taurus and also Ursa Major (aka the ‘plough’).
We ended the session walking back along the avenue toward the henge. Another person and I walked alone at the back. Being alone in the avenue, surrounded by grey figures and misty fields, shrouded by the starry night sky, the atmosphere felt heavy. I was being transported back in time to a place of unfamiliarity and yet, at the same time, feeling strangely familiar?
I looked up to the stars, the sky and the earth connected as one. I was being drawn in, into the briefest of glimpses of a cosmic plan. As I left the avenue behind, mist hung over the ground, the moon shone, stars twinkled, and all was still.
Next Week: Avebury Landscape.
Here’s Rhiannon Fitzgerald of BBC Wiltshire with a beautiful piece about Human Henge, recorded during our 8th session at King Barrows Ridge. Broadcast today on the Breakfast Show.
Here’s our latest Press Release, created by Jessica Trethowan, Stonehenge PR Manager.
Heritage and Historic Landscapes are good for you!
“Human Henge: Historic landscapes and mental health at Stonehenge”
- Ground-breaking project about archaeology, mental health and creativity
- Cultural therapy through a number of journeys across the Stonehenge World Heritage Site into the world-famous stone circle.
Human Henge is a collaborative project run by the Restoration Trust in partnership with Richmond Fellowship, English Heritage and Bournemouth University with support from the National Trust and Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust.
The project draws on ideas that Stonehenge was once a place of healing and explores the relationship between people, place and the past. It examines whether a creative exploration of historic landscapes can help people with mental health conditions.
Through a programme of participant-led activities, 32 local people living with mental health problems and on low incomes, come together for fun, therapeutic adventures, with experts, carers and support workers in this remarkable and inspiring ancient landscape.
Laura Drysdale, Director of the Restoration Trust says, “We hope that Human Henge will get people doing things they’ve never contemplated before, from star spotting on the cursus, to chanting poetry inside the stone circle, to presenting at conferences, curating an exhibition or publishing a book. That’s the whole Human Henge journey.”
Participant Andria Walton says, “Human Henge is a personal journey of healing for me. I live with emotional health issues, and I feel very comfortable and accepted with this group. It’s meaningful to learn about our ancient cultures, it’s exhilarating being in the open air, it blows away the cobwebs. It’s rejuvenating and revitalising.”
The group is accompanied by curators and artists, archaeologist Professor Tim Darvill, and musician and creative facilitator Yvette Staelens, as they explore the monuments, features and layers of meaning in the Stonehenge landscape, enabled through the participation of English Heritage and the National Trust. Each series of journeys end with a ceremony inside the Stone Circle, collaborating with musician Chartwell Dutiro at Winter Solstice or Spring Equinox. The final activity is devised by the participants in response to their individual and shared experiences on their journey.
Professor Tim Darvill of Bournemouth University said “Human Henge has really opened up new ways of looking at the Stonehenge Landscape and thinking about the way people might have used it and experienced it in the past. By spending time at a selection of the sites around Stonehenge it becomes possible to think about the landscape, the skyscape, and the monuments themselves. We can look at how their form structured the way people approached them and moved around them. Materials such as stone and clay come to life in your hands as you think about their uses and meanings, while sounds help the imagination travel back in time to the world of the early farmers.”
Speaking of one of their journeys in the landscape, one participant said “It was a day of connections, connecting to new people, a new landscape and maybe in some small way our ancestors.”
Another added, “This week was reflective. It was about connecting on a personal level with the landscape by listening to the birds and the wind, feeling the cold, sitting in the grass and being surrounded by these amazing burial monuments.”
“The experience felt completely natural and restorative. Perhaps we were connecting to something beyond us. The stones towering over you remind you of your smallness in this big world, and yet bring you together as part of a wider history with our ancestors.”
Martin Allfrey, Senior Curator of Collections, English Heritage said “We all know that visiting historic sites and engaging with artefacts from the past can be inspiring and fun but we’ve never tried to measure the benefits that historic places can provide for people suffering from mental health issues. We are really pleased that Stonehenge is the focus for this groundbreaking project, which brings together expert researchers from Bournemouth University and local people in Wiltshire. We hope that not only will the project add to the quality of life of those taking part but we also want to share the results widely, promoting a much greater understanding of the health and well-being benefits of engaging with historic places”.
The Human Henge project runs until June 2018. Findings and further questions will be explored and shared through activities, focus groups, exhibitions and conferences.
Notes to editors
- Human Henge enables 32 local people living on low income with mental health problems plus carers and volunteers to experience Stonehenge with expert guidance. They create an epic poem and ceremony that affirms the abiding connection between people, place and the past.
- Human Henge engages disadvantaged people living in Wiltshire in a therapeutic sensory experience of the World Heritage Site.
- Human Henge is a partnership with English Heritage, Richmond Fellowship and Bournemouth University supported by the National Trust and Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust. The project is also part funded by Wiltshire Council Amesbury Area Board and English Heritage.
- About the Restoration Trust: We help people with mental health problems engage with art, culture and heritage; we call it culture therapy. Our life-enhancing projects are partnershipsbetween arts and heritage organisations and organisations that support people with mental health conditions. We research the evidence of what works for wellbeing, and we spread the word about what we do. http://www.restorationtrust.org.uk
- Exhibitions at Amesbury Library, Salisbury Museum Festival of Archaeology and Bournemouth University, and proposed presentations at Theoretical Archaeology Group conference 2017, Culture, Health and Wellbeing international conference 2017 and an international Archaeology and Wellbeing conference 2018 share learning with the public and professionals.
- About the Heritage Lottery Fund: From the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife, we use National Lottery players’ money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about. hlf.org.uk.
- For further information, images and interviews, please contact
Laura Drysdale, Director of The Restoration Trust on mobile 07740 844883 and email firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Yvette Staelens
Everyone gathered at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre, and the session was about domestic life, what it meant to be living, cooking, eating, sleeping, making, dying in the historic landscape.
We met at Woodhenge at 7pm on a chill night, with the night sky partly clouded but stars still visible. Danny had planispheres which you rotate so they show what the night sky will look like at any time of the year, so we looked at them in the bus headlights. Back in the Richmond Fellowship bus to Larkhill, and then in the dark we walked to the east end of the Cursus. Tim explained the mystery of the sun rising and setting, then rising again back in the east, and how it was explained by the idea that the sun travelled beneath the disc of the earth in the waters beneath. We looked at an image of the Nebra Sky Disc, discovered in Switzerland in 2002, a bronze age description of the night sky. It was found with twin daggers, and there are stories of twins which reflect star twins in the sky and twins accompanying the sun on its underwater journey.
Danny used a laser pointer to show the Pleiades, visible as a loose cluster of stars, and we were a loose cluster of people, wondering how they would have looked more than five thousand years ago. Tim’s ipad was loaded with a astronomical map of the sky as it would have been in 3500 BC, when the Cursus was in use. We couldnt use the big telescope Danny had brought as it was too cloudy.
On one horizon the A303 was a ribbon of white and red light. Someone said it looked like the movement of blood around the body, and you could hear it well. Tim pointed out the distant cleft in the wood, which was 3km away and marked the end of the Cursus. People didn’t stop here and there is little archaeology, they moved from one end of the Cursus to the other, processing.
Then we walked, in the darkness, as the cloud cover grew denser and the stars were less evident. We could not see the milky way, and the air was colder. We gathered at a point before returning, back up the Cursus and then into the bus, back to Woodhenge – and off.
Blog and photos by Jessie Swinburne
This week we connected with the ancestors, through furthering our knowledge from the expertise of Professor Tim Darvill, and through embracing the beautiful, enchanting singing and music of Chartwell. This week was a time to listen, reflect and connect. We walked up to the Cuckoo Stone, and were surprised by Chartwell, in full traditional dress, playing music and singing.
We sat and listened to Chartwell and Tim. It felt a bit like a dream at times, as we thought about our pasts and the ancestry that links us all. Staring at the beautiful bright blue skies, as cliched as that is, made me smile and like the ancestors were some how trying to connect with us.
At 11 am we were silent and reflected on the sacrifices of the men who fought wars that have protected us and allow us to be here and live though our own journeys, whatever they might be…. it was especially memorable for me, being from a military background, as we are sat on the land that is shared with the military, who train hard and still sacrifice themselves for the protection of the country. This was a nice link to hearing about Zimbabwe and the traditions and beliefs of Chartwell…, who as it turns out is named after a building that Winston Churchill is linked to.. .an odd connection again maybe…
We discussed the rocks and I hope a few people felt they had their questions answered, or perhaps more questions were formed that will fuel their energy and engagement with the project. Thanks to everyone, I think the group were at ease this week, and focus for the creative output was generated and I look forward to getting involved in the next week…… as well as wondering about the exciting night walk!!!
Here are some more of Jessie’s beautiful photos
Words and photos by Jessica Swinburne
Today we ventured out into the gloomy, soggy not so inspiring weather, but still determined to see, explore and learn about the landscape, ancestors and perhaps about ourselves too….
Lots of rainy looking trees, still their vitality really shone through, rain glistening lusciously, off their leafs.. as a group we stood under the trees and took the luscious beauty in.
We sang and came together in spirit as well as landscape, just as the leafs were falling all around us we sang too “Leafs are falling… autumn winds are calling…”
It felt like the weather didn’t really matter at that point, what was important was that we embraced the moment, we came together and sang together, and shared the fresh air the trees so givingly share with us….Speaking with people it was great to hear that they had shared this moment, that they may have felt bleak this morning but that the walking, the woodland and the singing had raised their mood.
We went on a wood scavenge and shared knowledge about wood, it’s properties, and things that our ancestors might have used wood for. It’s fascinating to think how we have progressed, yet how clever and resourceful our ancestors may have been.
We used the willow we had stripped from the woodland, to hypothesise its uses in previous times, while playing with it making circles, or trying to make musical instruments even! It was energising to be playful with the willow, and embrace silliness, bending it, and sword fighting….
A factual and playful week embracing the rain, and coming together through singing, learning and curiosity about our ancestors. It felt great to be out whatever the weather, connecting with one another.