Here’s how I think Stonehenge was constructed, and why it needed those carpentry joints…

WordPress has excelled itself, managing to lose this posting when I hit the Publish key!

Quick repair job: here’s the new image that conveyed this blogger’s latest thinking.

new trilithon 1 aligned plus mound penultimate for blog

The secret is to slide the lintel up the artificial earth ramp ON ITS SIDE,  parking immediately behind the tops of the stone uprights, such that the mortise holes face OUTWARDS, towards the reader. When tenon and mortises are correctly aligned in two dimensions (horizontal and vertical) the lintel is then TIPPED OVER such that tenons slot into the mortices. The arch-like structure is then loosely locked together, sufficently to allow work to proceed safely to completion (remove earth ramp, ram hardcore into gaps beyween uprights and original subsoil).

 (Afterthought: the ramp on the right would probably have been much longer to reduce the steepness of the gradient.  It may also have had embedded timber tracks, laid lengthwise or maybe transversely like railway tracks, no doubt  greased or wetted with water,  to reduce friction. Pulling, via several tow ropes, would have been safer than pushing! Those who audibly questioned the need for a Stonehenge would probably have found themselves assigned to a pushing party.).

It was accompanied by a sizeable amount of text – all of it vanished, possibly for ever, there being no “restore previous draft”key visible.

I’ll try to reconstruct as best I can over the coming days. The caption to my schematic diagram above is new post-apocalyptic text.

As for Google, words fail me….

 

google search carpentry joints

What does Google think it’s playing at, ignoring  and striking out my very first search term,  one of just three, in this instance “stonehenge”?  Google needs to take a long hard look at itself, and make serious efforts to get back on track, responding first and foremost to the needs of the RESEARCHER.

 

Despite my increasing annoyance with the antics of the Google search engine, one has to be realistic, and say “If you can’t beat them, join them”.  I refer to Google’s own blog hosting platform, namely Blogger Blogspot, which I presently use and have used in the past. By and large that host’s software is a lot simpler, straightforward and less accident/disaster/apocalypse prone than the present site’s. I don’t know who designed the tabs and labels for bloggers on this site: if I did, I’d be tempted to hand them a blank sheet of paper and say “Now start again from scratch, and this time choose words that give some clue as to what this tab or label does when clicked, or which reveals its content when one hovers the pointer …

There’s also the matter of search engine visibility. While Google remains the world’s most popular seacrh engine, one has to be realistic and note that a posting to Google’s Blogger site appears almost instantly in listings under the appropriate search terms, if only “Past Hour”, “Past 24 hours” etc to begin with. Contrast that with WordPress where sometimes it’s 2 or 3 days before the Google web crawler picks up on its presence. (That is not right, incidentally: I do not see why Google cannot make an accommodation with major blog hosters like WordPress to ensure instant indexing of their new postings to ensure a level playing field).

If I see the need for any more postings  on Stonehenge/Avebury/Silbury Hill etc, they will be on my sciencebuzz site, this being my last one here.

So what conclusions have I arrived at, after first deliberating on the assorted enigmas for some 4 years (interrupted by a long digression onto the Turin Shroud)?

Here they are in summary form:

  1. Stonehenge, Avebury and other standing stones served as bird perches, the latter being encouraged to ‘adopt’ the site for the purpose of excarnation of the recently deceased. The primary purpose of excarnation was to (a) release the soul and (b) to isolate the skeleton that was then further cleansed by cremation. The cremated bones were then either buried in situ, OR interred in a nearby round or long burial barrow OR taken back by relatives to the deceased’s home.
  2. Silbury Hill was a repository for soft organs, probably harvested prior to avian or other excarnation , possibly the heart only. Silbury was what might be called a local speciality provided at the Avebury site/complex, some distance from the Stonehenge/Durrington Walls/Woodhenge/barrow complex some 25 miles away. The soft organs were probably interred with a handful of the deceased’s local turf and soil, probably with a deliberate inclusion of earthworms to ensure complete integration between old and new soil.
  3. The carpentry aka woodworking joints at Stonehenge were an aid to construction, rather then necessary for final stability (see this post). They served to fix and partly stabilise the intermediary arch-like geometry before removal of the earthern “formwork” i.e. the ramp followed by placement of rammed rubble around the base of each pillar for final anchoring of the structure.
  4. The bluestones were chosen for the Mark 1 Stonehenge because – being smaller than the Mark 2 sarsens, the working surfaces  i.e. tops were at eye level and thus visible.  They would have quickly become unsightly with uneaten flesh, bird droppings etc.  Thus the desirability of importing igneous bluestone in place of local sarsen sandstone. That’s because rocks of igneous origin, i.e. soldified magma and/or lava,  (e.g. the predominant dolerites and rhyolites of  Preseli and other Welsh ‘bluestones’)  are non-porous and liquid -repellent, and thus easier to keep clean and presentable.  It may be the lack of local bluestone that prompted the construction of the sarsen megaliths at Stonehenge. Being so much higher, the tops were largely out of human sight, and thus seen as safer more attractive places for scavenger birds (crows, ravens, rooks, seagulls etc) to perch, feed, roost, pass the time of day and maybe even nest.

Postscript added May 23, 2016

This blogger’s thoughts on Stonehenge, and indeed 9 other sites with circles of timber or standing stone, have now gelled. Here’s the overall conclusion, inspired by taking another close look at that so-called “Seahenge”on the Norfolk coast.

 

 

stonehenge get real posting may 23 2016

Posting on my sciencebuzz site, May 23, 2016

 

Link to the above scienecebuzz posting

 

Posted in Stonehenge | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Might the standing stones of Stonehenge and Avebury have been purpose-built for ‘sky burial’, providing a secure perch for crows or maybe seagulls to roost or nest?

Notice the abundance of passing visitors on the wing.  Birds like to have a safe place to perch, or indeed to roost overnight.

034449_a9c7b03b bird's resting place stonehenge close-up

Close-up

 

Is what we are seeing here merely an incidental feature of Stonehenge and similar sites with standing stones, including the simpler ones at Avebury?

36795d3e041457399c2c67eedd21033a crow avebury

Crow at Avebury (single standing stones, no lintel cross-pieces).

This blogger/retired scientist, with an insatiable appetite for unsolved enigmas (Turin Shroud , or  biogenesis of life on Earth etc) says NO. The attraction of those Neolithic standing stones to birds, carrion feeders especially, was NO ACCIDENT. They were set up specifically for that purpose. But there had to be an added attraction – food as well as a place to rest.

So what was the source of food?

Well, here’s where the discussion gets a little difficult.

Long, long before our Neolithic (late Stone Age) ancestors were farming the chalk uplands of Wiltshire, their ancestors, the  forest-dwelling hunter-gathers were confronted with an age-old problem – how to dispose of the dead, efficiently, while leaving some permanent memorial. However, being pre-Christian pagans they had preoccupations of their own, ones that may no longer seem obvious to the modern mind. Like how should the body be handled so as to permit release of the soul, i.e. spirit? Here’s where things get even more difficult: apparently the mortal flesh of the body was considered to be an impediment to escape of the soul. Anything that removed flesh from bone, no matter how  off-putting a sight in the short term, provided peace of mind to the living,   consonant with peace and immortality for the dead. A number of ploys, strategies were available, the details of which need not concern us right now. Suffice it to say that a popular one that existed in ancient times, and which survives to this day in various parts of the world, was the so-called “sky burial”.

05a9e988991d3f2ceb4c89f65fb7df63 tower of silence

Artist’s portrayal of an Eastern ‘Tower of Silence’ . Note vultures at the top, cleaned bones in the central well.

 

(To keep this posting of a reasonable length, I’m assuming the reader is broadly familiar with the meaning of ‘sky burial’, still extant in some parts of the world under alternative names, e.g. “Towers of Silence”. If not then see the image above, and maybe the wiki entry on sky burial too)

Recent excavations in the Sussex Weald (see link below) uncovered these structures which date back to 4000 BC or earlier. They are considered to be places where the dead were laid out for excarnation (defleshing).

 

Fig. 7 photograph of square enclosure[15]_0

Designed for excarnation of the dead (“defleshing”) by birds?

Here’s the authors’ own words.

Quote from the Historyextra site that supplied the above photograph (my bolding) :

“The composite arrowheads we found show that people were exploiting the woodland. And we suspect the small square enclosure that we discovered – a gully around a square, raised platform – was used as a mortuary.

We think the dead would have been laid out for birds to pick off the flesh. We suspect this is a Neolithic structure, dating to 4,000-2,000 BC.

Yes,  opportunist feeders, especially massed scavenger birds,  would have been considered agents par excellence for accomplishing an unpleasant task with maximum dispatch, least bother.

In passing, the title for this posting originally specified “carrion crows” as the likely scavenger. On reflection, one must not overlook another species that is highly adaptable – namely the seagull (especially herring and lesser black-backed gulls). In modern Britain they used to come far inland from their normal coastal habitat, being attracted by the rich offerings of landfill sites (probably less so now with separate kitchen-waste recycling via biogas plants).

_46754655_hi008296032 seagulls landfill site

Seagulls, landfill site, Gloucester, England (from BBC).

Their adaptability re nesting sites is legendary.

 

gull nesting sites

Inland seagulls and their squatting tendency

Might safe and secure nesting exolain why the builders of Stonehenge went to so much trouble to make the stones secure, with both mortise-and-tenon AND tongue-in-groove joints?

mortise and tenon joint stonehenge      mortise on stonehenge upright

One would’t want the lintels rocking even ever so gently if wishing to attract a year-round resident population of feathered-friends …

So how does the idea of Stonehenge as a site for ‘sky burial’ fit in with nearby Neolithic sites (notably Durrington Walls and Woodhenge)? That grouping is full of possible interpretations and scenarios, some already broached here and on the writer’s sciencebuzz site some 4 years ago, notably in connection with wintertime communal feasting of young pigs. Let’s not be too quick to make sense of a welter of competing information. Let’s go some 25 miles north of Stonehenge to another iconic grouping of Neolithic sites, all under the care of English Heritage, namely Avebury Henge and Stone Circle, Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Barrow. Here’s a Google map showing their close proximity to one another:

google map silbury etc third try

The red stars show the locations of Avebury (top), Silbury Hill (centre) and West Kennet Long Barrow (bottom). Note the scale (bottom right, highlighted in yellow) – a mere 200 metres.

 

Here’s a list of approxiamte datings for the major Neolithic sites in Wiltshire which this non-historian has culled from different internet sources, and is happy (until told otherwise) to take on trust:

 APPROXIMATE TIMELINE

West Kennet Long Barrow: 3650BC. Finally decommissioned  approx.  2500BC

Avebury stone circles: 2750 BC (as late as 2400BC for the linear avenues).

Stonehenge 3 (II) from wiki – sarson arrival: 2,600 – 2,400 BC but continuing later with arrival of bluestones.

Durrington Walls: 2525 – 2470BC

Marlborough Mound/Marden Henge: 2400BC

Silbury Mound : 2400-2300 BC

Woodhenge: 2300BC

So here’s a scenario that might have been operating in approx 2,500 – 2,300 BC, initially involving Avebury and West Kennet Long Barrow, and later involving the approximately midway upstart ‘cardionecropolis’  (yup, my description) that we now call Silbury Hill.

Someone in the community dies, possibly a respected figure, deserving of a ‘proper send-off’. Cremation? No, oh-so-last millennium, wasteful of increasingly scarce firewood, needed for cooking and heating. Simple burial? No, ruled out on both practical and religious grounds. Chalk bedrock in the Wiltshire downs, with no metal implements, merely antler picks, makes burial laborious and time-consuming. But there’s an age-old fear re burial – might it not prevent the soul exiting from the buried, mortal remains to the skies above?  Solution: transfer the body to Avebury, taking a basket of local turves and soil fauna (earthworms etc)  from the deceased’s home patch to  our putative excarnation site where it’s handed over to specialists. The first thing they do is excise the heart (thus the two smoothed-off flint-sharpening stones at the southern entrance to Avebury)  which is enveloped  in the turves, then tied around with plaited grass or string to create a compact receptacle for interment (see posting immediately previous to this one). The grieving relative says a temporary farewell to the departed, walks the short distance to Silbury mound where the package is interred behind a sarsen stone at a spot decreed by Silbury’s guardians. Meanwhile back at Avebury the corpse minus heart is laid out for excarnation by the resident bird population. Days, probably weeks later the bereaved returns to collect an ensemble of relatively clean bones. They are then taken home for safe-keeping and veneration OR in the case of VIPs maybe transferred to West Kennet Long Barrow, or one or other similar temporary repository for bones, maybe for months, possibly for years. (It does appear there was a steady coming-and-going of bones/dislocated skeletons at West Kennet, which ceased with the arrival of the final consignment of bones).

The next task is to fit that other grouping Stonehenge/Durrington Walls/Woodhenge into a coherent framework based around excarnation as the preferred option for disposal of the dead. In fact an attempt was made to do just that on both this and the writer’s sciencebuzz site, introducing a new concept that I termed ‘secondary necrophagy‘. It seems such a waste of ‘disposable’ high class protein to feed it to wild, undomesticated birds. Why not comminute it, and use it to keep captive pigs fed in the winter months especially?  Response/feedback to that idea? Zilch! Ought one now to try a second time, especially if the arguably less gut-wrenching ideas re Avebury and Silbury were hopefully to gain some traction?  Only time will tell. This writer is in no hurry to ‘sew up the story’. Neolithic Britain is not the kind of topic that can be neatly sewn up in a hurry…

Here’s a final image, just discovered. Try to imagine those starlings (?) are crows or seagulls. Regardless of species, they clearly appreciate their ‘bird’s eye view’ of Stonehenge and Salisbury Plain.

dsc_2097

Colin Berry PhD

April 17, 2016.

Herts. UK

sciencebod01(at)aol.com

 

Next posting? Isn’t Stonehenge supposed to have served primarily as an astronomical calendar, signifying the longest day in summer (or shortest day in winter)? Isn’t it asking a lot to suggest it was dual purpose?  And what about those bluestones, carried all the way from the Preseli mountains in west Wales, whether by glaciers or by human beings? Why the preference for bluestones for STONEhenge Mk1 (arranged in 2 concentric arcs we’re told) over local sarsens (silicified sandstone) – the latter present in abundance in Wiltshire while scarcely getting a look-in where Mk1 Stonehenge was concerned?

Both those key questions will be addressed.

 Update: April 18: here’s a link to a new posting on my sciencebuzz site:

Why the need for all those Neolithic standing stones at Stonehenge and Avebury? Why were igneous bluestones required from the distant Welsh mountains?

 

New update: Monday April 25: see new posting on my sciencebuzz site:

Stonehenge can be thought of as a Flintstone-era funeral parlour. Its sales pitch was soul-releasing sky burial AND, by way of bonus, a compact take-away package of cremated bones.

 

New update: Friday April 29:

Ideas are evolving rapidly. See the latest posting on my sciencebuzz site:

Might Stonehenge have been designed as an easily-spottable feeding station for high-flying seagulls – as perhaps was the nearby “Cursus”?

 

Photo-archive (placed here to avoid overloading my current sciencebuzz posting, 23rd May, 2016).

Chapter 2 Page 1

Archive 1: more details later

 

 

animal gnawing

Archive 2- more details later

peck marks

Archive 4 – more details later.

Posted in Avebury stone circle, silbury hill, Stonehenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Silbury soul-release model can explain the rounded sarsen stones implanted concave-side down into sides of the growing Neolithic mound.

 

The following extract is taken from the informative yet perplexing book entitled “The Story of Silbury Hill” (Jim Leary and David Field, 2010, English Heritage). We start on page 39 for this, the first and most important instalment of this posting.

The authors are relating the later stages of the 1849 probe, then under the direction of John Merewether, Dean of Hereford Cathedral, involving lateral tunnels that began in the side of the mound, approximately at ground level.

 “Merewether, who had visited the excavations en route to the meeting and taken a room at the Waggon and Horses at Beckhampton, remained to observe progress and instructed that lateral excavations should be made to both east and west. A number of silicified sandstone boulders known as sarsen stones were encountered in one of the lateral excavations on the east side, and ‘they were much worn and similar to those found in the surrounding fields’ (ref 35), Merewether reported that they were:

“placed with their concave surfaces downwards, favouring the line of the heap … as is frequently seen in small barrows and casing as it were the mound. On top of some of these were observed fragments of bone, and small sticks, as of bushes … and two or three pieces of the ribs of either the ox or red deer … and also the tine of a stags antler.”

Can these highly specific details, ones that at first sight would seem to have no rhyme or reason, be accommodated into the latest update of this blogger’s thinking re Silbury, namely that it served for composting of human (probably) soft tissue remains, possibly the heart only.

Link to this blogger’s recent article on the ancient-origins site.

See also the follow-up posting, posted just yesterday (April 11)  that immediately precedes this one.

Yes, I do believe they can, and this highly schematic diagram, cobbled together with MS Paint, shows how:

new sarsen

 Captive earthworms (see author’s previous postings) have been omitted, not being central to the sarsen narrative!

 

The sarsen was needed to protect the interred soft tissue remains from animal scavengers.  The sarsen was implanted concave-side down so as to provide a cavity that would encapsulate most or all of the interred package. Why the animal bone, sticks, ribs etc? Inevitably there would be an occasional animal intruder to the site – a dog, fox, rodent etc – one with a keen sense of smell, picking up the presence of flesh. It would sniff around the sarsen initially, and maybe attempt to lift or paw away under the stone, but its weight and rounded shape (yes, we’re told elsewhere the sarsens used tended to be rounded) would defeat it. That would leave it with little option other than to be content with a ‘consolation prize’ in the form of a few animals ribs etc. Even then, the ‘free gift’  would have to be extricated from a thicket of sticks, and being something that required patient chewing would probably mean the animal needing to vacate the mound to work on it laboriously but safely elsewhere. End-result: the interred package stays intact until Mother Nature, assisted by those captive earthworms, has done the necessary, and the Neolithic bereaved can be content with the thought that the soul of the deceased has been released from the mortal remains. The latter needless to say finally becomes integrated back into something that is indistinguishable from rich, wholesome-smelling soil.

Further additions to follow in a day or two, chiefly  to ‘tie up some loose ends’ re the likely mode of packaging of the mortal remains, the use of rough-hewn rather than rounded sarsens in the outermost chalk revetment of late-stage Silbury etc.

 

Postscript: Wow, I’ve just chanced upon this article from the Independent published 9 years ago, in which it’s proposed by Jim Leary and others that Silbury is a monument to the souls of the departed, and that each soul is represented by – guess what?- yes a sarsen stone!

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-souls-of-silbury-hill-are-bared-in-burial-mound-dig-397806.html

Now if I could just persuade JimL to go back inside and take a closer look at some of the “organic” material that he reported seeing inside the mound, like layers of “black soil”, “mud”  etc. They might not be be recognizable as 4,500 year old human remains, but there might be ways of demonstrating that they represent accumulations of worm casts derived therefrom. There’s a Silbury literature on the calcite granules of worm casts that were used for radiocarbon dating that I’ve so far not discussed.  Perhaps I should, especially as I appear to be the only one thus far to have proposed a direct cause-and-effect relationship between (on the one hand)  those mortal remains,  long since “disappeared” – if as I believe it was soft tissue only that was interred, not bones – and  those humble worm casts on the other, constituting a greater proportion of the internal dark layers of Silbury Hill than realized thus far.

 Second instalment: Wed April 13

My quoting for the L&F book continues on the same Page 39,  with reference it seems to the 19th century Merewether’s observations at the very heart of Silbury, i.e. the end of the lateral excavation tunnel.  Yes, it seems that what follows relates to the  central mound, the first-formed one with its abundant turves, snail shells etc, presumably what L&F describe as the ‘organic mound’

My bolding:

“Merewether also noted that there were ‘great quantities of moss still in a state of comparative freshness’ (Ref 37) and that it still retained its colour.He believed that this material, together with the freshwater shells, had come from a moist location and thought that it must have been derived from the west, north or east sides of the Hill where the Beckhampton Brook flowed past the foot of the mound. Sealing the turf stack was a dense black layer of organic material containing fragments of small branches and emitting a peculiar smell. In addition, fragments of what he thought were plaited grass or string were discovered in this organic deposit. This was not recorded in any of the later excavations and is likely to have been fungal mycelium, probably introduced in (the) 1776 (excavation, vertical shaft).”

Passing lightly over the “peculiar smell”, which would certainly betray the presence of something organic, something had maybe composted under less than ideal conditions perhaps (anaerobic?) and not necessarily of plant origin (need I say more?) we find that fascinating but infuriatingly brief reference to “plaited grass or string” which is immediately explained away as “fungal mycelium”.

I guess we’ll never know whether it was plaited grass/string or fungal mycelium,  given the description applies to the 1849 investigation which was unlikely to have preserved material for future generations to re-examine (or am I being overly pessimistic?).

However, I am not prepared to be summarily put off the scent (no pun intended) regarding what I consider an important possible clue as to the real purpose of Silbury Hill. Given there are said to be scores, probably hundreds of sarsen stones in the interior of the Hill, and given I consider each to be the marker for an interment, as per diagram above, then here’s a prediction. (We science bods are given to making predictions, considering them to be the sine qua non of the scientific method):

Behind each sarsen stone there will be found at the very minimum either (a) a cavity or (b) a sizeable amount of darkish soil which under the microscope will be found to have the signature of a worm cast – namely calcite granules or (c) more remnants of what appears to be plaited grass or string, and which indeed will be found to be plaited grass or string or (d) combinations of two or more from (a) to (c).

Why? Because a package had been interred behind each sarsen some 4,500 years ago, which contained human mortal remains, maybe as little as the heart of the deceased, maybe more. That ritualistic consignment had been brought to the Silbury composting site by the relatives, probably in a simple receptacle like a basket or string bag, enveloped in turves from the deceased’s home, and probably accompanied, intentionally, by a number of earthworms, because that I propose is how things were done in Neolithic Britain in that era, and for very sound practical reasons (which will be reiterated later).

Final instalment to this posting- started 11:00, Wed 13 April

I have been keeping this one till last, since it’s arguably the most tendentious, yet at the same time focuses on an aspect of those hugely significant sarsen stones that cannot be ignored. Indeed, it’s so tricky, so tentatative, or as some might later say, tendentious, that it will be written in sub-instalments.

The starting point of this section is in fact the end-phase of Silbury construction, the capping off with chalk, once the decision had been made that the mound had reached its maximum capacity as regards interment sites. That was an inevitability of course, given that the mound is conical, not cylindrical, with progressively less ‘floor area’ as it ascends, to say nothing of increasing physical effort needed by the bereaved to ascend to the later working levels. What happens then? Well, it’s my guess that the last generation of Silbury builders looked at what had evolved from small beginnings, with no preconceived plan to build a dramatic landscape feature, and thought: “We can’t leave it as an incomplete, untopped-out eyesore. It’s in fact well on its way to becoming the 8th Wonder of the World, correction, the less-anachronistic equivalent. So let’s do the decent thing and finish it off artistically. How shall we do that?”

Well, the rest as they say is history, and that involved cutting still more chalk from around the base and moving it to the top, but that was and could not have been a mere dumping operation. It involved the construction of the so-called chalk revetment walls, aka chalk rubble walls. These encircled the mound, leaning inwards for strength and support, and allowed for free  drainage of rain water, said to be a major reason for why the Hill exists to this day.  Having thus briefly introduced the “chalk revetment wall” one is now in a position to introduce an element of the unexpected, namely a conjunction of chalk AND sarsen stones and/or boulders into that wall. That involves going to Pages 110/111 of L&F to read Richard Atkinson’s description of the chalk revetment at the uppermost levels of Silbury Hill. Stand by then folks for some more cut-and-paste, correction, laborious manual copying from the book into my word-processor, then pasting.

Quote (lightly edited): my bolding

 “As the final remnants of the topsoil and subsoil were … shovelled and scraped away from the main …  excavation trench on the summit, the tops of these chalk revetment walls became visible.

A small patch within one of the walls, however, looked distinctly different, and as excavation proceeded …  the reason became obvious. Rather than using chalk rubble to build the wall, this small area  (3m x 5m) was made from broken pieces of sarsen rubble.

Lying alongside them were pieces of picks made from red deer antler. These sarsen stones are extraordinarily heavy, certainly when compared to similar size chalk blocks…   Further these sarsen fragments seem to have been deliberately placed next to the antler. A closer examination of Atkinson’s archive slides from his 1970 excavation, revealed similar clusters of sarsen stones within the walls dotted throughout his much larger trench … this strange phenomenon seems widespread throughout the later construction phases of the mound. Indeed, one is visible eroding out of the present pathway close to the summit…

The sarsen fragments on the summit were different to those seen within the tunnel. The fragments from the summit were formed largely of broken pieces … contrasting with the whole rounded boulders recovered from inside the mound…

So why the sarsen stones in a smallish part of the revetment, and ‘out-of-character’ broken rather rounded ones?

First, what would be surprising would Silbury having been finished off entirely with chalk, leaving no external and visible sign of its role in some 100 years or so of late Neolithic development. It was after all a sacred site within a pagan but probably spiritual society, one that revered the dead and went to some trouble to give them – or a symbolic part thereof – a proper send-off.

Given the special significance attached to sarsen stones as putative markers for each interment, what better way to discreetly flag up the mound’s raison d’etre than to incorporate some sarsens into the external revetment.

It’s admittedly a token gesture at first sight, and more so given the sarsens would only have been clearly visible at the top. Wouldn’t ground level have been a more logical place?

Yes, probably, so might there have been a different rationale? Maybe. The capping off would have been done when there was still space for a small number of final interments, maybe as few as one or two. Might the sarsens have been intended as a portal through which the final installation would or could be made? Maybe a ‘future insertion for someone very important was envisaged, given the dominant and commanding position at the top of Silbury.

Why use sarsens with irregular rather than rounded shape? Let’s dispose straightaway of the idea that all the rounded sarsens had been used up. If that were the problem, the rounded variety would simply have been  brought in from out of area. It hardly needs saying that Neolithic folk thought nothing of lugging megaliths over vast distances. Even if one’s sceptical at the idea that Stonehenge’s bluestones were translocated from the Preseli mountains of Wales to Salisbury Plain, the even larger sarsens in the outer circle of standing stones allegedly were transported from the Marlborough Downs, on Silbury’s doorstep but some 25 miles from Stonehenge.

There’s an alternative explanation. Had rounded sarsens been used then that portion of revetments could have been mistaken for the site of an occupied interment. Choosing broken irregular sarsens would have  signalled the presence of an access point for a then as yet unutilized location within the mound.

Almost there : just a little more needed – expect it to arrive in the next day or two.

In the next post I shall be addressing the 64000 question: why the theory presented here continues to be ignored and indeed shunned? I shall be commenting on the inappropriateness of judging Neolithic societies by modern day standards. I shall be defending the manner of disposing of the dead proposed here as one that was rooted firmly in the realities of living on the chalk uplands of Wiltshire where there were no easy options. We are discussing an era of human history that preceded the Bronze and Iron ages – thus no metal tools to dig graves in bedrock chalk, and an increasingly deforested habitat, which while attractive for early pastoralists, was one in which timber was too valuable to be waste on cremation via funeral pyres, being needed to stay warm and alive, especially in the winter months.

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Genesis of a new theory for Neolithic Silbury Hill – a gradual merging of multiple, soul-releasing compost heaps.

 

 

 

Fig 1 Silbury Hill, approach from car park.

Silbury Hill, Wiltshire, England  (“the largest man-made mound in Europe”), approx 4,500 years old, as seen from the visitors’ car park (notice the open-air display board with information on the early stages of construction, as revealed by archaeological investigations).

Hello. Sorry to have been gone so long (nigh on 4 years!). My “Shroud of Turin” project took longer than expected – well over 300 postings on  sciencebuzz and my specialist site, to say nothing of 2000+ comments  I’m told on Dan Porter’s now-retired shroudstory site (this blogger even getting an appreciative nod in Porter’s final two postings).

Yup, I’ve drawn a line under the ‘now- not-quite-so-enigmatic’  Shroud.  Here’s a link to my final conclusions, which need not concern us here.

Back then to Stonehenge and Silbury Hill, especially the latter, where my latest thinking can be seen on the splendid ancient-origins website.

Yup, I discovered the site a mere 6 weeks or so ago through googling that Shroud (sorry to mention it again) and responded to a comment with some new research. Acting Editor Liz Leafloor (standing in for April Holloway, presently on maternity leave) placed an appreciative note in the Comments. I then spotted a fairly recent feature on the site posted December last year on artificial “burial” mounds, Silbury Hill included, which while acknowledging that no burial had ever been discovered in Silbury, despite numerous investigatory shafts and tunnels, seemed to assume that had been its initial function, hinting that something might finally turn up.   Xxxx  said the same back in xxxx, suggesting that there was a burial chamber that had been missed through being situated off-centre. (will track down refs in next day or two).

Well, all the old thinking came flooding back from my brief internet presence here in 2012, preceded by some kite-flying on my sciencebuzz site.

To recap: this blogger does consider Silbury Hill to have been a burial site, but one with a difference.  It wasn’t a place for interring whole bodies – or if it was, the burial was a temporary one, intended to reduce a corpse to a skeleton via natural decay processes, then retrieving the skeleton and/or bones for storage elsewhere. That kind of purposeful “defleshing” has been described elsewhere in the Neolithic archaeology literature, as an example of “excarnation”, which if deploying natural agents in the soil (bacteria, fungi, earthworms), or larger wildlife (e.g. feathered carrion feeders in ‘sky burial’  aka ‘towers of silence’ ) is further qualified as “passive excarnation”. That’s to distinguish it from “active excarnation” which is the brutally no-nonsense speeding up by means of sharp implements to deflesh the skeleton. Yes, it’s starting to get grisly again, and is no doubt the explanation for why the ideas expressed here 4 years ago not only failed to gain traction, but, if the truth be told,  no interest or attention either. Read: no feedback! So why has the ancient-origins acquaintance made me decide on a second attempt to address this difficult area, which admittedly risks ‘de-romanticizing’ Silbury Hill for some folk, if seen primarily as an aid to excarnation whether passive or active?

Answer: these few words that introduced the Dec 2015 article:

“  The people from the Stone Age also venerated their ancestors, so they had to make sure that their dead were at peace. If they looked after the spirits of the dead, then they believed that the dead would look after the living. The spirit had to be released so that it would not remain trapped inside of the body and it was believed that the spirit could leave the body only once all flesh had disappeared from the bones. At times, when the dead were not pleased with their funeral rites, it was believed that they could return to haunt the living.

Thus Prehistoric people built burial mounds made of earth or stones. They were designed as homes for the deceased and somewhat resembled the prehistoric dwellings of the living.”

Yup, it’s all in the presentation, isn’t it? Shift the focus from the mortal remains and the unspeakable methods by which they were degraded or stripped from the skeleton. Focus instead on the immortal soul, needing to be freed from those pesky mortal remains, and hey presto one has become an archaeological spin doctor!

The next step was to approach ancient-origins, asking it the site might be interested in a summary of ideas that were 4 years old, and to be re-presented in a more soul-oriented manner. The response was encouraging and I quickly penned a 1000 words or so. But two things were lacking: 1. Photographs that were my own, rather than grabbed from internet photoarchives with potential copyright issues, and 2.  Solid science, as distinct from long-shot speculation.

The first was easily addressed. I and the wife paid a visit to Silbury Hill, an easy two- hour drive,  together with the  surrounding  jam-packed Neolithic monuments (West Kennet Long Barrow, Avebury Stone Circle and the less well known Marlborough Mound on private property – Marlborough College!). The camera was clicking away the entire time, and the English Heritage trust thoughtfully provided an open-air display board with some of the very same artwork (probably copyright) that had so appealed to me in the Leary/Field book.

composite 3 pix from silbury display board

We have Judith Dobie to thank for these splendid ‘artist’s impressions’ of the initial stages of Silbury Hill construction, based on numerous archaeological investigations, starting in 1776. One can see them in Leary and Field’s book “The Srory of Silbury Hill” (2010, English Heritage) and, as indicated, on the display board at the visitor’s car park on the A4 road adjacent to the Hill (from which these pictures were taken and then arranged in a single line).

Now this is where it starts to get interesting,or at any rate, heads off in an entirely new direction that one will not find elsewhere in the literature, bar a few asides that will be listed later.

There’s a wealth of detail in the Leary/Field book regarding the complex manner in which Silbury Hill took shape, based on the finding of their own and earlier tunnelling investigations.  Those details cry out for explanation, but none is to be found in that otherwise splendid book. The L&F postion is summed up in this headling in the Mail: “It was all an accident”.

Silbury Hll Mound Solved – It was All an Accident

This blogger will be addressing those peculiar details of Silbury’s construction, described by the celebrated Atkinson as resembling a “layer cake” etc. But there was an enigmatic feature of the proto-Silbury, long before any complex layers were added. It’s what Leary refers to as the initial “organic mound”. That’s when science and art co-synergized, with those splendid and haunting reconstructions in the L&F  book  (see above) of the first stages of Silbury construction. One has to look hard in the book to find who produced the artwork: it’s one Judith Dobie, mentioned briefly on the rear fly leaf.

(Yes, the same three ink washes as on the display board appear in L&F’s book).

It’s that term “organic” that intrigues this blogger. It is not defined in the book. Indeed, it slips in almost via the back door so to speak, and it took a patient trawl through many pages to form a view as to what was meant or implied by “organic”. (Maybe any carbon-based material of plant or animal origin, regardless of degree of preservation?). The incentive for doing so should be clear, given this blogger’s view that Silbury was a home for at least some part or portion of the mortal remains of deceased Neolithic pastoralists settled on the wide open spaces of the Wiltshire chalk uplands.

OK, here’s the result of my homework, listing each and every manner in which Leary deployed the term “organic”.

It makes its first appearance on page 39, where, referring to the centre of the primary mound (gravel plus  replaced top soil) we read:

 “Merewether also noted that there  were ‘great quantities of moss still in a state of comparative freshness (ref No.37) and that it still retained its colour. He believed that this material, together with teh freshwater shells, had come from a moist location and thought it must have been derived from the west, north or east sides of the Hill where the Beckhampton Brook flowed past the foot of the mound. Sealing the turf stack was a desne layer of organic material containing fragments of small branches and emitting a peculiar smell. In addition fragments of what he thought were plaited grass or string were discovered in this organic deposit. This was not recorded in any of the later (ed. post 1849) excavations and is likely to have been fungal mycelium, probably introduced in 1776 (ed. first probe of mound interior via vertical shaft).

 

“Organic ” next appears on Page 62

Referring to the small central mound of gravel, covered by a mound of turf and topsoil, with description attributed to the celebrated Richard Atkinson in his 1968 tunneling:

“…four complex layers of contrasting black marshy soil, white chalk and coloured flint gravel with an overall diameter of some 34m and reaching an estimated depth of just over 5m…

”On removing a portion of turf they were astonished to see that it was still green…

“Not only plants but insect remains survived …  “flying ants” …”ants were lying dead in the turves long before becoming incorporated into the mound.”

:”over this organic phase was a large mound of chalk…”

Presumably “organic” refers to both relatively well-preserved recognizable planr and animal matter AND to dark coloured muds etc of less certain composition.

Oh heck, this can wait till later. Let’s cut straight to the chase. The proto-Silbury can indeed be described as an “organic mound”, but one of very peculiar and, at first sight, bizarre construction. Indeed, its construction needs to be known to anyone wishing to get to grips with the enigma that is (or was???) Silbury Hill. To that end I cobbled together these two diagrams using MS Paint to summarise whay Leary and Field expressed in words, and Judith Dolby with he pen and brush.

 

Fig 6 My schematic diagram of first 3 stages in life of Silbury Hill

LEFT: initial site with top soil and turf overlaying clay/flint subsoil and bedrock chalk. CENTRE: top soil removed to expose subsoil. RIGHT: heap of gravel placed on subsoil (to deter downward earthworm migration?) 

Fig 7 My schematic diagram of next 3 stages ,

LEFT: the top soil  and turf has been placed back on top of the gravel, maybe more ordered than shown. CENTRE: additonal layers of soil, subsoil have  etc have been added, together with a mysterious dark material (wormcasts?). RIGHT: excavations have been made (3 are shown beneath the red ? marks) and then back-filled with the same excavated material. Was something being ritually interred with that back-fill? Mortal remains of recently deceased?

 

So what ate the unusual indeed unexpected features you may ask?

There are three:

  1. What’s described as the tallest man-made mound in Europe, predominantly chalk construction, began as a mound of GRAVEL (you know, that stuff that easily slips and settles on itself if you try to make too tall a pile). WHY GRAVEL?
  2. The gravel was not simply placed onto unprepared ground. No, the topsoil was removed down to subsoil first, to a base that is described as clay-with-flints, which one is tempted to describe as “non-organic” 9hardly the most logical start for an “organic mound” one migh tthink.
  3. It gets worse. The second addition, placed on top of the (shifting?) gravel heap is described as having plant matter, some amazingly well-preserved after 4,500 years, even still green. It’s considered highly likely that it’s merely the removed topsoil being ADDED BACK ON TOP OF THE GRAVEL, super-topsoil one might say, or at any rate, elevated topsoil.

No why on earth would anyone go to that trouble, especially if the initial aim had been to construct the highest artificial hill in Europe?

Answer? Maybe that was not the aim,  as considered also by L&F: mMaybe that proto-Silbury Hill, that so-called organic mound, served an entirely different purpose, one that was not merely ornamental. Now what could that be?

To those who are gardeners, the answer is obvious. If one makes a heap with turves on top, especially inverted turves (admittedly an exercise of imagination, since we’re not told if that were the case) then one has the beginnings of a compost heap. Why? Because composting to make an organic mulch for one’s roses etc benefits from having well-aerated conditions that encourage the right type of bacteria and fungi to grow, ones   break down dead plant matter to …  compost, the latter contributing to soil HUMUS, which helps plants establish through encouraging healthy growth of roots.

That was the cue for another small exercise of imagination. What does one invariably find when turning a compost heap with a folk, as one’s recommended to do at intervals to improve aeration? Answer: earthworms. They may be large or small, depending on species, but they are attracted by the dead decaying plant matter. It is said that it’s not the plant debris itself that is the attraction, but the microorganisms that grow on it – bacteria and fungi. That’s a detail that need not concern us for now.

The important thing is the realization that Leary’s “organic mound” looks for all the world like the initial phase of a compost heap, and a well aerated one at that being elevated, free-draining etc.

But there’s a problem. While the gravel base keeps it well aerated and well-drained (excess water being the enemy of compost heap, encouraging anaerobic conditions and the wrong kind of bacteria) it would be a barrier to those helpful earthworms. One would be dependent on the replaced top soil having earthworms to get the heap off to a good start. One would be well advised to add earthworms deliberately, just to be on the safe side.

Might they not escape from the heap, if finding conditions not to their liking (like finding non-ideal food?).

Stand by for another exercise of imagination: the gravel and underlying subsoil were a deliberate ploy to keep added earthworms CAPTIVE in the elevated compost heap.

Why would one need to keep them captive? Why might they want to migrate back to ground level and try their chances elsewhere?

So far I’ve said nothing about the diet of those starter worms, though it might be assumed they would not starve if the turves were inverted, allowing the latter gradually to rot down, creating  a slow but steady supply of ‘worm food’.

Just a single compost heap, fed with goodness knows what, but clearly not kitchen scraps? No. Look at the next phase of Silbury construction, where we see the initial heap encircled by what might be called satellite heaps. No, not just one compost heap, but many, all roughly the same size, except maybe the starter being the biggest. Silbury as a communal composting centre, designed for recycling (organic material “X”  still to be clearly specified,  origin uncertain -> compost)?

But wait: the modern day compost heap does not multiply, nor does it grow like topsy, ever wider, ever higher. Why not? Answer, because the end-product, with a wholesome if earthy aroma if conditions were right, is harvested at intervals, and taken for use elsewhere. That clearly did not happen in the case of proto-Silbury, which progressed to primary Silbury, secondary Silbury, tertiary Silbury etc.

So what was being fed to those worms, whether adventitious or (more probably) deliberately introduced, such that there was NO DESIRE to harvest the end-result, that the end-result stayed exactly where it was, being progressively overlaid with more soil, more worms, more ‘offerings’ and finally capped off with vast amounts of chalk, excavated from the nearby encircling ditch.

Ah yes, that ditch.A few words are necessary regarding the ditch.

Now suppose you dear reader had been intending to construct a large artificial mound for whatever reason, purpose unspecified, and had decided to use the local chalk.

Would you (a) decide on the likely size of you final hill, and  only excavate chalk outside of the chosen ‘footprint’ area?

Or would you: (b) decide that it was too tedious to carry chalk from periphery when the initial heap was still small and proceed to dig out the nearest chalk at hand, creating a circular ditch that then ahs to be back-filled  chalk that was from further afield.

Which involves the greater work? Digging chalk and carrying it a few metres or tens of metres to where it’s needed, creating a single ditchOR digging, back-filling, digging, backfilling?

The answer is obvious, and as Leary and Field themselves point out, there was clearly no intention at the start to create something the size of Silbury as we know it. The initial intentions were more modest, and one clearly must look to the detail, so admirably expressed in those line drawing s, with those MULTIPLE MOUNDS to deduce the initial raison d’être.

What could have been serially added to that proto-mound, with nothing being taken away, such that over years, probably decades, probably generations (3 or more?) Silbury Hill gradually took shape as a landscape feature, without that having been the initial intention?

There seems one, and only one logical explanation for all this repetitive activity that takes the form of small heaps that gradually coalesce to become one, each with mysterious “organic” character with those allusions to “dark soils”, “muds” and even earthworms.

Silbury was the place where one took the mortal remains (possibly a very small part thereof) to be communally interred under soil, with an implantation of earthworms.  The inclusion of those earthworms was probably dictated in the Neolithic mind more  by vague ideas re natural recycling of ‘stuff of life’, albeit imperfectly given that animal matter is said not to be an earthworm’s preferred diet   (preferrign we’re told plant rather than non-plant material).

In short, Silbury was a communal compost heap, but one to which there were additions only, not subtractions. The additions were probably modest in size, probably nominal and symbolic, e.g. notably the HEART  of the deceased only(?) The return of that individual’s key organ of life, the heart, may have been viewed as sufficient to liberate the soul, the immortal spirit of the deceased. Leaving nothing offensive in its place, and well-protected, well-concealed  anyway in the early stages of what today we would call biodegradation. As and when signs of that process began to appear on the surface (worm casts, or indeed the worms themselves after rain) there was a simple remedy – place more gleaming white chalk on top. Conceal the evidence of what was going on, out of sight, out of mind.

Incidentally: there one question that needs addressing later: why was chalk added if the intent ion was merely to create compost heaps? Might a need have been seen for chalk to mask the unsightly-looking heaps ,  making the ditch a mere by-product  OR was a ditch around the interment area deemed essential, for reasons that can be discussed later?

The fact of there being a ditch AND a bank of the same excavated material on the inner (mound) side, acting a raised screen or rampart –  see above-  must surely point to the second reason.

Let’s stop here for now. Take away message?  Silbury Hill was intended initially as a communal necropolis for receiving and honoring the mortal remains of the newly deceased, where they were interred with soil and earthworms, a ritual that was intended to free the soul, while returning what was left to the soil.  How much of the deceased was interred? It could have been as little as the heart – given its association with life when visibly beating, Or it could have been more, possibly the entire body if the skeleton were later retrieved. My feeling, based on little more than intuition, is that it was just the heart with at most a few other readily harvested vital organs. The fate of the rest of the body can be addressed another time.

Next posting:  The focus will be on the embedded sarsen stones of Silbury Hill (“like raisins in a cake”). What function did they serve?

I say they can be readily accommodated within the new interment theory.Let’s see if there’s any response to this and my ancient-origins posting first, and whether it’s positive or negative!

Postscript (added Tuesday April 12) : I guess my difficulty with the expression “organic mound” is as follows: first, it seems unlikely that organic matter makes the major contribution. Inorganic matter in the form of the gravel, the various additions on top of the replaced topsoil etc would make inorganic matter the major constituent. Then there’s the difficulty in discerning which organic material is being seen as the major defining constituent of the (minor) organic part of the organic mound. Is it the turf, mosses etc associated with the replaced topsoil?  Surely not, given their amazing state of preservation which while defying common sense perceptions re biodegradation, appear at the same time to detract from their playing any functional role that would justify a focus on “organic”. Or is it the mysterious dark layer above the replaced topsoil when we are told so little about its nature or source, whether as being of marshy origin, or some kind of mud, or imported dark soil. Or is it the ants, snails and other assorted fauna, the presence of which in buried topsoil is hardly surprising? Or is it something to do with those mysterious scooped out parts (see the three question marks on my diagram above) where the same excavated material is returned? Or maybe the imported additions of  out-of-area “home soils” with a range of distinctive flora that are referred to briefly as perhaps signalling the “real” purpose of Silbury Hill,  a celebration of habitat diversity,  (about which I’ve said nothing as yet, through still being unable to decide if they are or are not the defining feature of the “organic” mound).

Would this blogger/retired science bod have deployed that term “organic mound” for so varied an assortment of biological contributions to the proto-Silbury mound? The frank answer is no, since it leaves the recipient of one’s terminology puzzled as to what importance to attach to the term. I might have called it the “oddly-constructed embryonic Silbury” and flagged up the uncertainties regarding some of its layers and/or other contributions, notably those with dark material, which may or may not have been imported soils.

I think I might have been content to call it the “peculiar primer-mound”. That then prepares the reader for the undeniable fact that almost everything about Silbury Hill could be said to be peculiar.

Hopefully, my proposal that the earlier stages of Silbury served as a communal site for composting human remains, ones that leave no trace after millenia of earthworm activity, will serve to reduce some of the perceived “peculiarity”.  But I don’t undersestimate the difficulty of getting my readers to buy into the idea that Neolithic farmers took a very different view to those of modern internet readers as to how best to dispose respectfully but efficiently of the mortal remains of their loved ones. Let’s not lose sight of two practicalities: consigning to a non-shallow grave, out of easy reach of animal scavengers, was a tough option, when the bed rock was chalk, and one had nothing but deer antlers with which to excavate. Cremation on an open pyre? That might have been seen as a terrible waste of dried timber on increasingly deforested upland, especially in winter time, when trying to stay warm was a priority.

 

 

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Road map to a new theory of Stonehenge, Woodhenge, Silbury Hill and Durrington Walls. How our Neolithic ancestors ensured their survival during the winter months,

Artist’s impression of Stonehenge – with pigs playing a key role…

Update: September 10th 2014. (Yes, it’s over 2 years since I last posted ,and months since I last looked at this dormant site). But the BBC and papers today are full of the latest findings from Stonehenge (about which more later), So imagine my surprise to find that a site that has been attracting scarcely any visitors  has already had 43 hits so far (early evening).

Hits on this site in response to the latest news on Stonehenge.

Click to enlarge:  hits on this site today (far right) in response to the latest news on   Stonehenge.

What’s bringing them here, courtesy of their search engine? Probably it’s the mention of Durrington Walls (the key to understanding a major phase of Neolithic use of Stonehenge, with maybe de-fleshing of the recently deceased too (‘excarnation’).

See this from the Guardian:

“One of the most striking monuments to emerge from the survey was a 33 metre-long burial mound containing a massive wooden building whose timber foundations – and a giant upright blocking its entrance – were spotted in the soil. Predating Stonehenge, the building is thought to have been a house of the dead where bizarre burial rituals were played out. “The rituals included exposure of the dead bodies, and defleshing on a large forecourt,” said Wolfgang Neuber, at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute. The house was later covered in chalk and finally became a curious white landmark.”

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/sep/10/stonehenge-teeming-chapels-shrines-archaeology-research

‘Bizarre’ burial rituals? See my postings for an alternative view, based on the imperatives of surviving an English winter where there is virtually nothing than can be harvested for months on end by a Neolithic farmer who has long forsaken a nomadic hunter-gatherer existence, but who has maybe found a solution, based on the omnivorous pig and its insatiable appetite for anything it considers ‘edible’ regardless of origin.

————————————————————————————————————-.

I’ve said I am proposing a new theory on this blog, and that it is “evolving”. So before going further, here’s a road map to show the route this theory is taking, which corresponds approximately with the train of thought that led to me developing these ideas.

Silbury Hill.  Something was systematically buried there, in instalments over a century or so – but what – and why has it left so little trace? I believe it was used to inter the soft internal organs of the deceased, ones that have almost totally disappeared, but have left a chemical signature.

  1. That leads on to why the internal organs only were buried. Why? And what happened  to the rest of the body – the flesh and bone?
  2. That’s leads on to the Neolithic settlement at Durrington Walls, close to Stonehenge that we are told was occupied in the winter months only, and where there was much communal feasting on barbecued pigs.

    Nearby Durrrington Walls – occupied during the einter months only -with much communal feasting on barbecued pigs

  3. But why were the pigs all approximately the same age – some 8 months – and what had they been fed on for the duration of their short lives?
  4. That leads on to Stonehenge and its Woodhenge predecessor. Why were they both designed to detect not only the summer solstice but also, probably more  importantly, the winter solstice too, i.e. the shortest day, approx Dec 21st?
  5. Did the iconic structure of Stonehenge – with those lintels especially – serve a utilitarian as well as ritual role – one that had been previously tested at Woodhenge, and then replicated in a form that was more durable, and resistant to fire, possibly attack also?
  6. Round -up of theory: was Stonehenge all about legitimising a survival winter-time diet, based on barbecued pork in the first instance – but allowing the pigs to make use of a resource that was considered too valuable to dispose of by burial or cremation? Was a narrative constructed that said that the essential soul of the deceased resided in the heart and/or other internal organs – the parts that were ceremonially interred at Silbury Hill –  but that what remained could be re-entered into the food chain through an intermediary – swine – thus fending off any suggestion of cannibalism – especially if given a seasonal sanction that declared that the period beginning at the winter solstice when food was scarce justified the  temporary changeover to a special diet that –  at one stage removed  in the food chain – and thus crucial for developing  aesthetics –  helped to ensure survival while at the same time serving a symbolic role of reuniting Neolithic man with his ancestors ( or so the shaman declared)?

Further reading

Update 10 March: see Guardian article:

Stonehenge may have been burial site for Stone Age elite, say archaeologists

Dating cremated bone fragments of men, women and children found at site puts origin of first circle back 500 years to 3,000BC

http://discussion.guardian.co.uk/comment-permalink/21861764

Update: 3rd April 2016

Hello, I’m back, after an absence for getting on for 4 years (most of that time preoccupied with the Shroud of Turin). Why am I back? There have been developments. They began when I spotted the ancient-origins site appearing in Google page 1 returns for a search under (shroud of turin) – a welcome breath of fresh air when one looks at the other stale-old sites that (by hook or by crook) still  manage to hog the listings.

Then I spotted a December 2015 posting on Silbury Hill, curiously described as a Neolithic burial mound – but – small embarrassment – without any known burial!

Here’s a link to the Silbury posting in question:

http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/not-great-place-pass-night-haunted-mounds-prehistoric-times-004878?nopaging=1

Well, the cogs began turning, and suddenly the answer appeared out of the blue. Yup, the answer (or what I consider to be the answer) to the age-old enigma of Silbury Hill! It can be summarised it 4 words: compost heaps, captive earthworms…

Here is a copy-and-paste of each of my two comments placed on the end of that posting. There’s more to come, much more. Please bear with me.

Colin Berry wrote on 25 February, 2016 – 14:42

Fascinating, especially the theory as regards the need for decarnation of the skeleton before the soul could be released.

One small gripe however, namely the idea that the largest man-made mound on Europe was constructed in a mere 10 years. What’s the evidence for that?

Back in 2012 when this science blogger was writing on Silbury Hill (linking it with Stonehenge!), that excellent book by Jim Leary and David Field appeared (see link to my ‘sciencebuzz’ site below).

They too reckoned it had been constructed fast, amazingly so given the complexity of Silbury’s structure, starting with a small starter mound with “sticky gravel”, then the progressive addition of further mounds around the periphery, then on top, forever expanding, then addition of chalk and rock and ramparts for structural support and drainage, building it up like a layer cake. Let’s not forget all the mysterious dark banding (decayed organic matter? soft issue remains?)

They reckon it took a century or thereabouts, an estimate I’m more inclined to believe.

So what was Silbury for, and why are there no recognizable human remains if it was used as suggested here for initial decarnation of the newly deceased?

Well, the idea of letting the soft tissues decompose, and then (presumably) removing the skeleton later is a neat suggestion. It’s very close to my own hypothesis, namely that the internal organs – viscera, possibly including the heart too – which may or may not have been venerated, conceivably on a par with the soul – was what went into those individual mounds that gradually coalesced to become a giant super-mound.

What about the rest of the body, notable flesh, i.e. muscular tissue and bones? Ah, well that’s where Woodhenge, Durrington Walls and finally Stonehenge enter the story, they being some 25 miles away, the sites we’re told of communal winter feasting on roast pork. Or was it smoked bacon? And what were the pigs fed on (don’t ask, unless interested in the gory business of ritualized, dare one say semi-industrialzed decarnation, ‘secondary necrophagy even thanks to those unfussy pigs’!) ? Was Woodhenge (Stonehenge Mk1) designed to facilitate smoking and curing of hung meat? Was it later replaced by a more durable, less flammable structure, the one we call Stonehenge?

Yup,or should that be YUK, one can get a flavour of what may have been the REAL PURPOSE of Silbury Hill AND Stonehenge from thje link below. But you’ll need a strong stomach, even for that fairly restrained posting (later ones being more explicit as regards detail):

http://colinb-sciencebuzz.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/new-theory-for-silbury-

Here’s the second comment, posted  a few days ago:

Colin Berry wrote on 30 March, 2016 – 11:05

Since posting this comment just over a month ago, an idea has occurred to me that would explain the peculiar manner in which Silbury Hill evolved.

I have been in touch with the owners of this site, proposing that the idea in question be announced here, where it’s likely to attract far more attention than if published on my dormant Silbury blogsite.
But there’s a snag: even if the site were to agree to publish my article, that could take time, with the risk that I could lose publishing priority (“publish or perish” as they say).
While the idea is simple in principle, absurdly so, it could have important implications for the way in which one judges the level of technological development in late Neolithic society (circa 2500BC).
So, to establish priority (“you read it here first”) here’s my idea in telegraphic form.
Silbury Hill began as a gravel mound, with the underlying turf and top soil removed down to subsoil, and the turves and topsoil then placed back on top of the gravel.

I believe that was a device to create the beginnings of a compost heap, and that earthworms were deliberately introduced into what Leary and Field have described as the initial “organic mound”. The gravel heap with uninviting subsoil was a device to keep the earthworms captive within the mound, where they would then be given human mortal remains, namely selected internal organs and/or other soft tissue as primary input (while recognizing that earthworms are considered to obtain their major nutrition from the microorganisms – bacteria and fungi – that grow on the biodegrading organic detritus).

Silbury Hill can be seen as the end result of a coalescence of scores, perhaps hundreds of individual small ‘compost heaps’ each containing a deposition from one deceased individual, each “seeded” with a handful of earthworms that would reduce the soft tissue offering via aerobic (NOT smelly anaerobic) processes to something resembling inoffensive-looking, inoffensive smelling black soil.

Hopefully there will be an opportunity to back up the hypothesis at a future date with more information. In the meantime, I strongly recommend the book “The Story of Silbury Hill” by Jim Leary and David Field (English Heritage 2010) with its delightful artist’s impression of the early stages of construction provided by Judith Dobie (which can also be seen on the helpful display board at the visitor’s observation area).

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Watch this space folks, or rather this website, shortly to receive some new posings, fleshing out the new hypothesis, and addressing the inevitable criticisms that are bound to be made, hopefully constructive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The plain, unadorned truth about Stonehenge and its neighbours, Durrington Walls and Silbury Hill – not for the faint-hearted…

I’ve been trying to write this post for some days, but have recoiled from the task. It’s not as if I have not put these ideas into the public domain already. I have – under my ‘science buzz’ blog.  But I did not want a 3 year old project that focuses on current science to be sullied with the dark thoughts I have entertained regarding Stonehenge, based on recent research, notably at the nearby Neolithic settlement of Durrington Walls, and, further afield, Silbury Hill. That’s why I decided to spin off this topic to a specialist blog – this one – to keep it quarantined, so to speak from my general science interests.

But days have passed, and I still find it difficult to re-articulate and further develop views already expressed.

Strategy: I will start with my theory of what happened over some 100 years to  produce Silbury Hill. I shall then follow a train of thought that leads back to Woodhenge, Durrington Walls and Stonehenge. It is not a attractive story, which is why I hesitate to relate it. But for those who want truth and understanding, it could explain why Stonehenge, even to this day, still looks so sinister. It was sinister. It was a place which helped our ancestors make the difficult changeover  from the light side of pastoral living (late spring and summer) to the dark side of survival (late autumn and early spring). Yes, I ‘m referring to a survival diet that kept folk alive during the short winter days when there was no growth of crops, when the surrounding woodland was bare of foliage, making hunting for game more difficult…

More later…. when I can summon up the motivation to tell it the way it WAS …  4,500 years ago….

 

 

 

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Why was Stonehenge constructed with those woodwork joints (mortise and tenon; tongue in groove)?

Notice anything unusual about that upright?

Here is the first real post on this, my new Stonehenge/Silbury site – not counting the Hello World preliminary supplied by the WordPress host. It takes a close look at a detail regarding Stonehenge – one that is both at first sight practical and mundane,  yet baffling at the same time. I then use that detail to prise open what I believe to be the answer to the Stonehenge/Silbury enigmas – why were they built? Why go to so much trouble when, 5000 years later, archaeologists and historians are still asking what they were for?

Look first at the picture below.

It shows one of the upright sarsen stones which originally supported a lintel (the latter now next to it on the ground).  Notice the hump on top.

It is in fact the tenon of a mortise and tenon joint, the mortise being in the fallen lintel. Someone has handily provided a diagram to show the location of the two components of the joint – designed to locate one on the other to ‘tie’ the two together.

The two red circles show the position of the mortise (lower left) and tenon (top) respectively

But that’s not all. In addition to a mortise and tenon joint, the upright and lintel were interlocked by a second tongue in groove joint. Here’s a diagram showing this remarkable belt-and-braces arrangement, looking for all the world like something out of a woodwork class, yet laboriously fashioned using stone tools in the late Neolithic (pre-Bronze age).

Two mortise and tenon joints AND a tongue in groove (just to be on the safe side)…

The purpose of such joints is obvious where furniture is concerned. They allow a chair, table etc to support a weight without collapsing. But why the need to interlock the components of a heavy self-supporting structure like Stonehenge? Would not the force of gravity alone be sufficient to keep the arch-like trilithon arrangement of two uprights and a lintel crosspiece intact? Not even a hurricane could blow it down, surely?  Or even an infrequent earth tremor? What could possibly dislodge that mighty lintel, given that it is several metres high, towering above its builders, and weighing some tens of tons?

Answer? The doubly-secured lintel was to prevent it being detached by the ever-present  Enemy, who, arriving in large numbers, maybe at the dead of night, might come equipped with ropes, levers etc and attempt to dislodge those lintels, to send them crashing to the ground.

Why would the Enemy be so determined it its mission to destroy the crosspieces of Stonehenge?  Could it be that the circle of standing stones that we call Stonehenge came to represent a symbol of the awesome power of its builders over the nearby Enemy. Where the latter was concerned, did that circle of stones, looking somewhat sinister even to modern eyes,  represent something else – like summary execution, and a humiliating and highly visible fate to follow – one in which those lintel crosspieces played a key role?

So who was the Enemy? And why was Stonehenge a prime target for raiding parties, and accordingly designed to resist being torn down? Those questions will be the subject of my next posting

Further reading on those mortise and tenon joints

 Update April 22, 2016 (4 years on!)

I think I’ve sussed it out. Shame that all my text (imprudently composed online) disappeared when I hit the Publish button! Just as well that a picture is worth a 1000 words. Here’s the schematic I made to accompany the posting:

new trilithon 1 aligned plus mound penultimate for blog

See the new posting for a longer-than-usual caption to the above, essentially a Band-Aid operation. I’ll try restoring the full posting in easy stages, though that may take a few days.

 

 

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