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.

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Avebury Blog: Session 2 – Swallowhead Springs – 26 Jan 2018

Photos and text by Shane Faulkner

Today at the education room we were given an interesting talk about geophysical surveys and pottery.

A number of geophysical surveys of the area have been carried out with many potentially interesting results. Archaeological geophysics (sometimes called geofizz for short) is a non-invasive, non-destructive method of collecting ground based data associated with subsurface features. The final result being a mapped image of the area for interpretation. We were given copies of an image map of survey results for the general Silbury Hill/West Kennet area.

The whole area is covered in intriguing subsurface features relating to differing time periods. Most notable of these are features discovered just south of Silbury Hill. Here, survey results showed the presence of rectangle enclosures and buildings as well as roads, indicative of Romano-British settlement. Roman artefacts had already been found in the immediate area and were the initial pieces of the puzzle. The site is suggestive of a small Romano-British town, which would have overlooked Silbury Hill.

There is also a natural link for the location of the site and the presence of nearby springs. The association of springs and religious worship is well known (for example the Roman Baths) and the presence of the water systems provided such space for ritual practises as well as being crucial for agriculture. This in turn meant this was a rich area for growth & prosperity.

We then had a talk about pottery. A lot of the pottery vessels found at Windmill Hill were Neolithic round based bowls with some having lugs for suspending. It has been discovered that a small proportion of pottery found at Windmill Hill originated all the way from the gabbro outcrop on the Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall. The specific composition of this clay means we can locate it to a small area of the Lizard around St. Kerverne.  This clay, named gabbroic clay, was gathered to make most of the pottery within Cornwall. The clay shows specific inclusion of gabbroic rock such as feldspars, pyroxene minerals called augites and mica. This gives the gabbroic pottery a flecked appearance. This got us all considering how things were moved around during the Neolithic period. Did the clay travel out from Cornwall, or were the pots made in Cornwall first then travelled out on trading routes?

We finished the meeting by writing a personal message on a ribbon to hang from the willow tree at Swallowhead Springs; our next destination.

Our small convey headed down West Kennet Avenue to the roadside car park to walk to the springs. Furnished with cold weather clothing, boots, wellies & ribbons, we set off down the track towards the River Kennet. We crossed the bridge over the chalk stream and took in the surroundings. From here are great views of Silbury Hill and you can also see the top of West Kennet Long Barrow just noticeable on the hill ahead. The long barrow will be next week’s destination. 

We detoured away from the barrow path, walking alongside the Kennet and past a small copse. On the track was noticed a deer print. Too small to be from a Roe deer it had to be a print of a Muntjack deer. On reaching the field corner we descended down a very muddy and slippery slope. After nearly losing a few fellow companions succumbing to the slopes’ wrath and passing an ill-omened dead bird, we all came out through a multi coloured willow arch, renewed and reborn on secluded sacred ground. 

This sacred ground being the location of Swallowhead springs themselves. The site of two natural chalk springs, which at certain times of the year feed the River Kennet. A site revered for its sacredness, many people visit the springs to worship and partake in ceremonial practice with ritual offerings.

Here, worship of the Celtic goddess Bridget takes place. Bridget is associated with the return of the flow of life-giving waters and the return of spring. The sacredness of the site dates back far into the past, but how far is not certain. More recent lore highlights the importance of the spring’s sacred waters for religious ceremony. It is also interesting to note how over time the site has changed considerably, looking different to how it does for us today.

An excerpt from William Stukeley’s Abury (1743) reads,

The country people have an anniversary meeting on the top of Silbury-hill on every palm-Sunday, when they make merry with cakes, figs, sugar, and water fetch’d from the Swallow-head, or spring of the Kennet. This spring was much more remarkable than at present, gushing out of the earth, in a continued stream. They say it was spoil’d by digging for a fox who earth’d above, in some cranny thereabouts; this disturb’d the sacred nymphs, in a poetical way of speaking.”

Another interesting fact about the site is that the water from the chalk springs can remain a steady 10C all year. Due to this the grasses and other vegetation around the springs often stay lush and green all winter. At the head of the spring lie some stones and on these all types of offering get placed. There were hope stones, crystals, coins, flowers and small wreaths as well as other symbolic offerings.

Hanging over the flowing waters from this spring grows a large willow tree. From this tree many personal items hang. We all tied our ribbons, also known as a cloutie, to the great willow as an offering, wish or prayer. We then listened as a prayer was made to the Great Goddess. 

We partook in our own spiritual ceremony in an exercise of standing silent for one minute taking in our surroundings. We also had to guess when exactly we thought the minute was up and to contemplate on time itself. With the birds singing and the trickling of the Kennet in the background, a beautiful song was then sung. The song really made the sacred site come to life, evoking all sorts of emotions and linking the present with the past. We separated, with women on one side and the men on the other, all held hands and sang our own songs in coordinated fashion.  A very uplifting moment.

Across the River Kennet have been placed large crossing stones and this was to be our way back. It was time to sharpen our senses as the crossing was a precarious one with some wobbly moments. With the imaginary soundtrack to Indiana Jones playing in the background, we all made it across the river safely. Admittedly, the water was only knee deep at most but I’m sure I spotted some crocodiles! 

We all walked back to the car park across water meadows and headed back to Avebury education room feeling tired yet revitalised by the cold fresh air.

Another lovely, in depth, educational session.

Next Week: West Kennet Long Barrow!

A view beyond the stones

By Mr BPD, our blogger for Human Henge at Stonehenge in 2017

I have started to write this several times and I have come to realise that I really hate self-promotion, although this is more about how I got here than slapping myself on the back. But I am very happy and proud of how far I have come and what I hope to achieve.

My story starts in 1971 the year I was born, and one day I plan to write it; but this is about life after Human Henge, so let’s start my story when I arrived in Wiltshire.

I realised after moving to Trowbridge that mental health service were much worse than in the tiny village of Sherborn. Services were limited or miles away and I knew that something was needed and from my experience of mental health services I knew that it had to be service user led and ongoing.

I tried to set to things with up with mental health agencies. I found not that they were resistant. it was more an issues of resources or they were more interested in services that provided projects that were geared either to returning to work or to what I refer to as basket weaving (projects are run for limited time offering no real structure).

I never gave up on the idea of starting something but although I asked for help I could not get the support I needed. Time moved on some, and well I really had become isolated and needed something to give a reason to leave the house and interact with other human beings.

Luckily the Human Henge project came along which gave me a chance to rekindle a few skills, it allowed me to write under the name Mr BPD and reconnect to my spiritual side. After the project ended, which is always a sad part, the group stand together and in touch and meet up regularly.

This connection is the most important part of any project and it only comes when service users invest in a project. I mentioned about setting up a sort of project based around a magazine and the feedback was good and lots of people were interested but sadly the service provided only wanted a basic writing group that I could see would just become a basket weaving group. S I declined the offer to run it as I did not have the skills I believed were needed to make the project a success.

After a change in care coordinator who had different knowledge I was introduced to the person in charge of service user involvement in the mental health trust.

After a few conversations it was very clear that we both wanted the same thing, a user led project that would grow into the service that is needed. I had been let down a few times so did not let myself get too invested.

Just before Christmas we met once again to talk about a venue and thought about Tesco Community Room so we made some enquiries. We found out that we met the requirements to use the room but the person in charge of the diary was not available and would not be back till the New Year so we left our details and waited for a call.

On the 11th January I got a call. Tesco had a cancellation and they had a four-hour slot on Monday and could we meet on the 12th outside Tesco.

We met and agreed we would go for it for four-hours on a Monday, we walked and met with the person in charge of the room. Within minutes we had agreed to take the room on the coming Monday on a long-term basis and came up with the name Trowbridge Users Group (TUG).

We then went off for a coffee and realised what we had just agreed to: it was lunchtime Friday and the first group would be on Monday. There was no time to get the word out but we would try.

So I rushed home to get the word out and by Saturday morning TUG had a functioning website, FaceBook page, Twitter account. The rest of the weekend was propagating content and making posters. And trying to put together a mission statement and a framework of ideas of how the group would run and how service users could be actively involved.

We agreed to starting group as a coffee and chat drop-in and let the group grow organically after finding out what people wanted. I thought it would be good to involve as many service providers as possible, not to run the group but to come in as guest speakers and say what they do and how they can help and how to access the service. This way service users could take a more active roll in their recovery. We all know that the mental health service across this country has been starved of resources and staff are under a deal of great stress and many service users are not informed about services available, so by inviting service providers users can take a proactive role in their recovery.

Trowbridge Users Group (TUG) has one main aim, which is to involve as many service users as possible and become a voice for change within mental health. We are actively encouraging service users to get involved in planning events and running on line services as FaceBook and Twitter Admin and as blog writers. We hope in time to have service users sharing their skills and business ideas and acting as mentors to others. The possibilities for this project are endless and one day I hope it becomes the gold standard for service user involvement and will shape mental health services so they are more service user led.

Things are still in their early days but we have booked the Restoration Trust, Health Watch Wiltshire, and The Wiltshire and Swindon Users’ Network to come in and talk and explain what they do, in time I will be inviting more. And if you’re reading this and feel you have something to offer the mental health service user of Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust (AWP) I would love to hear from you.

I will not devalue the work I have put and will put into Trowbridge Users Group (TUG) but I will say if it was not for the confidence and friends I gained from Human Henge I’m not sure I would have had the guts to push forward. They are a constant source of support and encouragement and have assisted in the launch of the Trowbridge Users Group (TUG) with help proofreading content and joining and sharing the TUG FaceBook page and retweeting news.

If you would like to more about Trowbridge Users Group (TUG) please visit

Web http://www.trowbridgeusersgroup.co.uk

FaceBook https://www.facebook.com/TUG2018/

Twitter @AdminTug

Email admin@trowbridgeusersgroup.co.uk

Trowbridge Users Group (TUG) runs every Monday 1 to 5 at the community room, Tesco Extra

County Way


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Avebury Blog: Session One – Windmill Hill – 19 Jan 2018

Photos and text by Shane Faulkner

The session started within Avebury Education Room, where we all congregated for formal intros and to chat about the day’s proceedings. A tempting finger buffet was placed before us with red & green grapes, satsumas, fig rolls, garibaldis, biscuits etc. Just what we were going to need for a mornings walk in the chill fresh air.   After filling our pockets with the remaining offerings (ok, just me then) we set off out to the car park. It was a lovely, sunny, crisp and frosty start to the morning which meant for lovely views over the whole area. On walking to the cars, we passed the Alexander Keiller Museum and dovecot, (which will be the focus of a later session) and were able to briefly walk alongside part of the banks of the North West & South West sectors of the henge.

After we did the maths and managed to get everybody into vehicles, we set off for Windmill Hill. Out of the car window, there were fantastic views of Silbury Hill in the near distance. On driving through Avebury Trusloe we arrived at some farm buildings which was to be our rendezvous point. Whilst waiting for all peoples to be ferried up, I took in the view of Windmill Hill ahead. Once we had all arrived, we commenced our walk on up the gentle slope of the hill itself.

We walked along the hedge lined track until we reached Horslips Bridge on the first bend of our path. Under the bridge slowly flows the River Oslip.  The river is said to be fed by springs around Windmill Hill and may have been a primary supply of water for Neolithic peoples of the hill.

On passing the Oslip, I noticed two roe deer in the adjacent field and stopped to take pictures. Further along the path some more deer started to show. We all stopped to take a look at these graceful animals. A total of ten deer emerged and started to walk away from us to the far end of the field.

Slightly further along a volunteer pointed out the location of a long barrow, Horslip Long Barrow. The earthwork, though not fully visible from the path, made its presence known by an area of longer, rougher grass.

After what was a moderate walk for some and a huge walking achievement for others, we reached the start of the enclosed area of Windmill Hill itself. On arrival, I myself was met by the occasional dulcet sounds of song (wink). Some of the group had started to sing a tune and others joined in on arrival, finishing in a crescendo of carefully orchestrated vocal harmonies, at one point out competing the resident skylarks! For me personally, the singing was a great way of releasing certain pent up energies and emotions as well as allowing the opening of the rusty gates of self-expression.

On top of the hill views were fantastic, with a 360 vista of the surrounding downland scene.

One of the leaders gave a talk about the history of the site. Windmill Hill is a causewayed hill enclosure constructed during the early Neolithic, c 3680 BC. It is the oldest site within the Avebury complex.  Covering nearly an estimated 21 acres, the enclosure has three concentric ditches, with the area between these known as the causeways. Believed to have been a more seasonal rather than permanent site, early Neolithic farmers lived in the general area and the use of the enclosure was perhaps more of a meeting place with ceremony, feasting and trade. Within the enclosure are several very distinct Bronze Age round barrows.  From a vantage point on one of these, many of the local prehistoric monuments can be viewed, albeit at distance.  

Looking towards Avebury the henge bank is visible as well as some of the larger standing stones (Stones 50, 201 & 206 which make up the Northern Inner Circle, and 46 the Swindon Stone).

Also visible is West Kennet Avenue, East and West Kennet Long Barrow, Silbury Hill as well as the Ridgeway, Barbury Castle, Oldbury Castle and many other sites.

With sunny blue skies and singing skylarks to lift the spirit, we made our way back to the cars, returning the same way we came. Walking along the track I saw around 60 tree sparrows feeding in some set aside field margin. This was a lovely example of how the local conservation effort by groups/landowners is paying off.  I also noted a few nest boxes put up to help this species, so thumbs up to the landowner.

A great morning of fresh air, exercise, lots of history, beautiful scenery and some lovely nature.

Looking forward to next week!

Human Henge Press – December 2017

The role of ancient landscapes in mental health 

by Liz Williams

Modern celebrants have been convening at the ancient site of Stonehenge in Wiltshire for many years now: revivalist Druids of the early 20th century, hippies of the 1960s and 70s, New Age travelers and political activists, and modern Pagans have all gathered at the summer and winter solstices to hold free music festivals, conduct rituals, hold raves, and simply acknowledge the turning points of the year.

The role of the site is ongoing and has a highly significant place in the practices of contemporary Pagans worldwide, but not just Pagans alone. As well as solstice rites and ongoing archaeological work, Stonehenge is now the focus for a wider new initiative: the Human Henge Project.

Read more

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An article about Human Henge featured in The Guardian to celebrate the Winter Solstice.

Hundreds gather for Stonehenge sunrise after winter solstice

by Steven Morris

Some of those attending the winter solstice celebrations at Stonehenge were there to worship, others to party or to simply to enjoy the rise of the sun after the longest night and look forward to lengthening days and springtime.

Despite it being a gloomy, soggy morning in Wiltshire, there was a joyful atmosphere as hundreds of people gathered to witness the light return.

There is evidence that spending time near or within the standing stones can actually be good for mental wellbeing.

Read more

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.


Human Henge at TAG Conference – Cardiff, 18th – 20th December 2017

The timetable is now available on the Theoretical Archaeology Conference 2017 website here. Our session on ‘Archaeology, heritage and well-being’, led by Restoration Trust Director, Laura Drysdale, and Professor Tim Darvill, from Bournemouth University, will be on Tuesday 19th December. This will begin at 9.30am and is a three-quarter day session with a wide range of papers to be discussed.

Find out more about the session here.

You can also follow TAG 2017 on Twitter here.

The Restoration Trust Digital Annual Report 2017

The Restoration Trust, who run Human Henge, have collaborated with digital storytelling agency Muddle Up and Medway-based social enterprise futureCodersSE to create an inclusive annual report, A Year of People Doing and Making.

The report features information about Human Henge as well as the other projects run by the Restoration Trust.

See the report here – http://ar.restorationtrust.org.uk/

Find out more about how the annual report was made here – https://restorationtrust.org.uk/2017/09/05/annual-report-2017/