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).
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.”
‘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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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)?
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
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:
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):
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).
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.