The weather for today’s session was a lot more stable than last weeks. Most of the snow had cleared but the temperatures were still low. We made our way to the gallery room to meet the rest of the group. On entering we were delighted to the fluted sounds of what could only mean one thing, Max had returned. We settled down to a brief chat about what may happen after the group sessions finish and what previous groups have done. We also talked about next week’s equinox plans.
Briony talked about theclay making process and mentioned modern examples of creations made by others and how productive and fun it had been for those involved. We were shown examples of clay faces and how they were formed onto tree trunks. We touched on Neolithic pottery and some of the round based pots that were used during this period. We learnt about the hands on aspects of the Neolithic clay pot makers and the process of heating and burning during use. We also learnt about even heat distribution of round based pots for cooking on fires. The information lead us nicely into our next activity.
We all walked to a tree lined avenue adjacent to the Keiller museum. Half way down the avenue we came to some cut tree stump seats and a table. Here, the clay was cut and a selection of clay making tools were laid out (see pic below). Briony started by showing us an example of clay making techniques by forming a face on a tree trunk. As we watched, Briony created facial features with such ease (I believe she has done this before!) and before long an anatomically true face manifested from the clay. With all of us confident we could imitate Briony’s creative side (yeah, right), we collected our clay and tools and all chose our own tree trunks to work with. A few people sat at the tree stump to make clay pottery.
With my focus on the tree trunk and the clay and with birds singing in the distance, I experienced rare moments of internal peace. The creative therapy was engrossing, making me lose myself in the process, thus leaving worries and stresses at the gate. Up and down the tree avenue, faces and forms began to sprout from the bark, familiar objects rose from the tree stump table, an expression of all our inner worlds and pure and unique creativeness. As we neared the end of our time for this activity, some had completed their creations, whilst for others, there was a mad rush to finish ‘the original idea’. I’m sure a lot of us would happily have stayed doing this for a least another hour. Time was thus called and we all met for a chat about what we had done and we all walked along the avenue admiring others creative expressions! The whole activity was symbolic, powerful, joyful and yet so simplistic and primal.
We touched more on pottery and its makers. We heard about Neolithic peoples and tried to imagine and understand what inspired them to create what they did. We heard how pottery was vital for the culture and how over time the skills develop into specific specialisations. We then pondered on questions such as; what was the social structure like and specifically who would have been making the pottery? How many people had the pottery making skill? Were there expert craftsman solely for the process or was it learnt and utilised by many? Was pottery made by males, females or both? What age groups were involved, for example, did children make pottery? Was it taught at a young age or did the children pick up on and mimic the adult’s creations? Whose job was whose?
Thus on deeper reflection, I ask myself; can we really associate with the peoples of the Neolithic period or have we lost that specific perspective forever? Have we indeed lost the meanings and intentions (being ephemeral in nature) behind the permanent, organic, physical finds, therefore creating an absence within archaeological knowledge? Or conversely, was the basis of ideas and thinking of Neolithic people all that different to more modern peoples? For example, does there exist a timeless, innate, common, universal theme to human thought, expression and creativity? With this last thought in mind, can we then not glean meaning an understanding of older cultures from perhaps, modern cultural examples? We may never truly know the answers to these questions, but I hope that at some point we will.
As we returned, Max played and communicated with the avian fauna (see video below & link for more from Max.
Back in the gallery room, Max played a bit of freestyle flute and talked about the artistic expression of our ancestors. He shared the origin of his music with us, mentioning that when he was young, he left school with no qualification. However, he did then discover music and later played flute in the streets at the age of 18. For him, this was a doorway to a new concept of the world, a way of self-expression. He was following a dream, one of which was to be a guitarist. Max never learnt to read music but found his own way, his own musical interpretation. He talked about a powerful moment of hearing an instrument and had a life revelation, an awakening. To Max his music is about a personal quest of the past within the present. Another huge door Max walked through, was into the world of faerie (I myself have walked through this door). He saw the energy of this world of the small people and the magic it holds. He mentioned inspiration also from the movie ‘Dark Crystal’.
Max then mentioned an encounter with a little man who made incredible instruments. He then played a Celtic flute for us, inspired by fairy and evoking the spirit of the elves and Celtic memories. He also shared his experience of living in montane forest and how this opened another door for him. Max explained that he was sitting at foot of tree one day, listening to a bird singing, and decided to practise with the bird, gaining inspiration from its tune and learning new music. A shamanic instrument was next, a symbol of the migrating bird (to go and to return). He explained his animal themed instruments in helping thus to commune with such an animal, the spirit of animals, past and present.
Max finished talking about living in a reconstructed tribal setting complete with tepee, skins of animals and living like prehistoric man around a fire. He told a funny story about meeting a modern man whose car had broken down, the story ended with police looking for kangaroos and how they started calling themselves the ‘kangaroo tribe’! Doesn’t get more surreal than that! Max continues on his journey of discovery, looking for talents from within, an innate memory from prehistory, linking past to present, a universal music, transcending time through one’s consciousness.
Next to talk was Steve, a group volunteer. Steve talked about equinox, linking this in with our equinox plans and next week’s final session. In an informative talk, Steve mentioned that the equinox meaning can cause arguments in its understanding. Is it equal day and night? Or is it when the sun rises due east? Is it the half way point between the winter and summer solstice? etc. He did say that the equinox is a return to a position after a completion of a cycle and that cycle is represented symbolically as a zero ‘0’ with zero meaning the return or completion of a cycle. Steve said we don’t have to start at the top of a circular cycle, we can start anywhere. For some ancient cultures they started in the east. Commonly the 3 o’clock position. An example given was the Vatican and its great temple facing to the East. And the great ceremony for Christians is of course called ‘EASTer’.
We also learnt about the cycles of star constellations and the precession of the equinoxes. For example, the constellations go through a cycle, taking turns to be in line with the sun at the equinox position. It is called the precession of the equinoxes and it goes backward through the star signs. Our present astrological age is Pisces. The age started about 2000 years ago -the birth of Christ. It is why Christians use the symbol of the fish. The constellation of Aries was the sign that the equinox sun was pointing to, i.e. about 2200 BC. It was about then that Avebury went through its final and grandest transformation.
We then learnt about the spring equinox. This is where the sun moves to its high point and rises north of east, and the full moon crosses over and rises south of east. At Avebury however, there doesn’t seem to be a place in the henge to celebrate the equinox. But there is West Kennet long barrow. Around the time of the equinox, if you wait in the back chamber, a small patch of sun light travels across the sarsen at the end of the back wall. Steve ended explaining that spring is, “a time of new growth, new life and new beginnings. A time to sing and dance and tell happy stories. A good time. We have made it through the long cold nights of winter. Here comes the sun”.
We finished the extended day’s session planning next week’s equinox ceremony.
Next week’s final Human Henge session – Stone circle ceremony of the spring equinox!
There was to be a small gap in proceedings, as last week’s Human Henge session was cancelled due to adverse conditions. Initially, Avebury’s surface conditions were deemed too poor and the henge site was closed. Added to this, of course, was the media termed “Beast from the East” that struck our shores and left many areas snowed in. This made for dangerous, and in some areas, impossible driving conditions.
This week, along our way to Avebury, snow still lay around 9 days after it had first fell. Large white drifts were visible in the field margins and on the road sides. On arrival at Avebury, we walked into the henge where, here also, snow still lay about in clumps. At the National Trust buildings we were met by Steve, a volunteer, who let us know our venue for today had changed. We met instead in an old room of the beautiful manor. Everywhere there were low beams, old wood & stone and wonky stairs.
Due to last week’s cancellation we were to have a slightly altered session plan. Today, we met Laura Drysdale, Human Henge Project Manager, & Dr Ros Cleal, Curator of the Alexander Keiller Museum. Laura & Ros were introduced and Laura talked about the Human Henge Project (After many emails it was a pleasure to finally meet). We then split into two groups either side of the room and partook in a clap along with Yvette. We created some interesting acoustics that resonated between us. Afterwards, one group left with Ros over to the Alexander Keiller Museum, while our group stayed to listen to a talk by Briony on modern (17th century) archaeology.
Briony talked about some investigative work that had been carried out at Avebury Manor during December 2017. One of the rooms ceilings needed repair and in exploring the floor space an opportunity arose to look for finds. Many interesting items were indeed found under the floorboards; the whole room’s floor space having been meticulously mapped and methodically inspected. Around 70 bags of dust were amassed during the exploration as well as the odd dead mouse! Briony discussed with us the preliminary findings mentioning that she is still investigating and interpreting the findings of this room of the house. Briony also mentioned about a very intriguing, and until recently, unknown space found behind two walls within the house. I pondered what secrets & stories might lie hidden behind these walls.
After a while the other group had returned and it was our turn to set off to meet Ros at the Keiller Museum. We walked over to what was the old coachhouse building of the manor and had a brief look around the museum’s exhibits.
From the museum, we climbed some stairs to enter a room built into the roof space of the building. Here, many important local archaeological finds were stored and catalogued. Old dark wood presentation frames, display cases and glass cabinets held an array of pottery, stones and other period treasures. We all put on surgical gloves and listened as Ros talked about pottery finds. We first looked at Neolithic pottery shards collected from Windmill Hill. As seen in the photo below, there have been many examples of vessels discovered. Looking at all of the styles and patterns was fascinating. People later noted how they enjoyed being able to actually handle the pottery, as opposed to seeing it in books or behind glass. The hands-on learning brought people closer to the past, to the peoples who created this pottery. People started to think how it may have been. What the peoples may have experienced.
We also looked at examples of gabbroic pottery, (as I discussed in the session 2 blog). The speckled appearance of this pottery standing out from the rest of the collections. In regard to this, Ros talked about ‘opening agents’ that are found in gabbroic pottery. Without these agents, water and air gets trapped in the clay causing cracks and breaks when fired. We then looked at the contrast with Beaker pottery, which generally has a paler look, made to perhaps imitate the look of bronze. We discussed how pottery was made and by who. For example, it was noted how pottery making techniques involved forming coils of clay, working upon the last coil as they went. Also, that it may predominantly have been women who created pottery due to social structure. For example, the pottery would have been used for essential domestic uses. A comparison was talked about between bonfire firing compared to oven-type firing. An example of pottery was shown exhibiting the black colouration due to the presence of carbon from high heat. This example of high heat oxidisation occurred when bowls was placed directly within fires. From this, you could then see how the bowls were placed into fires and used from all those years ago. Discussed also, were details such as the diameter of the rims in working out circumference, lug creations used for carrying and artistic design/patterns.
We moved on to look at examples of Neolithic Stone. There were an array of Neolithic stone examples. Many of the stones had smoothed polished areas. Drilled holes were present on some whole stones. A now somewhat faded Jadeite axe butt was shown. This axe was discovered to have travelled all the way from the north Italian Alps via Brittany 6000yrs ago or later. The stone was discovered locally at Beckhamton Avenue. We finished with examples of Germanic lava stones.
Back down the stairs in the museum, we had a longer look around the exhibits. There was a lot to see in the time we had left, so I missed a few things. However, there was a brief history of the archaeology of the complex and examples of finds. There was a skull and a skeleton, models of the henge and how the stones were positioned as well as some examples off flint arrowheads. There was also an exhibit on more modern finds from around the henge. I must come back for a proper look some time.
We headed back to the gallery room for a final fascinating talk from Ros. We all sat around to have a hands on look at many examples of Neolithic scrapers and axeheads found within the Avebury complex. This was a good chance to ask Ros and questions we had about all the finds. On commenting about this week’s session, one member mentioned how they thought it couldn’t get any better than the last session (the night walk) but how this week’s session indeed had been. As with other weeks, I had to leave early but others stayed to have lunch and a chat.
Next Week: Double Session with clay, music and equinoxes!
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.
Using historic landscapes and heritage resources of various kinds to promote well-being represents one of the most significant advances in archaeological resource management for many years. Its potential contribution to health-care and wellness initiatives is boundless. Prompted by the ongoing HLF-funded Human Henge project, this conference provides an opportunity to hear about this and work going on across the country and at many different scales, share experiences, and to discuss the outcomes, implications, and theoretical underpinnings of heritage-based well-being projects.
Please use the Eventbrite link to book a place at this free conference
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.
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.