Julian Richards to lead series of walks around the World Heritage site of Avebury

Lewis Cowen writing in the The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald today reports that -

TV archaeologist Julian Richards is to lead a series of walks around the World Heritage site of Avebury this summer and autumn. Dr Richards, who presented BBC’s Meet the Ancestors, is a noted expert on the archaeology of Avebury and Stonehenge and will be leading the Wessex Walks on Wednesday, June 6, Saturday, September 1, and Sunday, October 21.

The Wessex Walks are part of a programme of study days running at museums, galleries and sites all over Britain throughout 2012.

More here.

Prehistoric Wiltshire: An Illustrated Guide and talk by Bob Clarke

Prehistoric Wiltshire: An Illustrated Guide by Bob Clarke. Foreword by Francis Pryor

Wiltshire contains some of the most important archaeological sites in Britain and its Prehistoric remains range from the splendour of Stonehenge to the awesome Avebury stone circle, with Silbury Hill and the Kennet Long Barrow being other noted megalithic monuments in the county.

Among these important sites are also found smaller, perhaps lesser known monuments to the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages, including the cursus barrow cemetery at Fargo Plantation and Woodhenge.

Bob Clarke, author of numerous books on military archaeology and history, takes us on a tour of the prehistoric sites in this archaeologically rich county, using aerial photography and outstanding images, which accompany the informative text and diagrams.

Amberley Publishing. ISBN 9781848688773. Paperback. 128 pages. b&w and colour illustrations throughout.

Bob Clarke will also be talking about his book this Sunday (6 November) at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum. The talk will be followed by a book signing.

Venue: Sunday 6 November, 2:30 - 4:30. Entrance fee £3 which includes tea/coffee and cakes.

The Marlborough Mound: Prehistoric origins confirmed!

Writing in The Guardian yesterday Maev Kennedy reports that -

“For generations, it has been scrambled up with pride by students at Marlborough College. But the mysterious, pudding-shaped mound in the grounds of the Wiltshire public school now looks set to gain far wider acclaim as scientists have revealed it is a prehistoric monument of international importance. After thorough excavations, the Marlborough mound is now thought to be around 4,400 years old, making it roughly contemporary with the nearby, and far more renowned, Silbury Hill. The new evidence was described by one archeologist, an expert on ancient ritual sites in the area, as "an astonishing discovery. Both neolithic structures are likely to have been constructed over many generations.”

William Stukeley’s 1723 image of Marlborough “Mount”

More here and here.

On this day William Stukeley (1687-1765) died

“Stukeley was an English antiquary and one of the founders of field archaeology, who pioneered the investigation of Stonehenge.

“William Stukeley was born at Holbeach in Lincolnshire, and studied medicine at Cambridge University. While still a student he began making topographical and architectural drawings as well as sketches of historical artefacts. He continued with this alongside his career as a doctor, and published the results of his travels around Britain in 'Itinerarium Curiosum' in 1724.”

More here - http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/stukeley_william.shtml

A rude race of hunters...

“...I have ascertained that Silbury Hill was originally surrounded by a deep trench or moat. Also, that it was erected by a people, probably a rude race of hunters, so little advanced in civilisation that they were using flint implements a long time after the hill was built. This discovery places the date of the erection of Silbury Hill at a very early period, possibly many centuries before the arrival of the Romans in Britain.”

From Recent Excavations at Silbury Hill by Alfred C Pass. Read to the Clifton Antiquarian Club on 15 December 1886. More here -

David Attenborough's big dig

Quoting from a recent Guardian article, “Silbury Hill is as ancient and enigmatic as Stonehenge. David Attenborough tells Jonathan Jones why he set out to crack it.”*

Crack it? An unfortunate use of the word ‘crack’ in this context (though perhaps an unwittingly accurate one). And as much as I like and respect David Attenborough, the 1960s tunnel into Silbury should categorically never have been dug; it contravenes just about every conservation (and possibly archaeological) rule in the book. The 'dig' was a shambles from start to finish, with little respect for the integrity (archaeological, structural or otherwise) of the monument. The televised dig was a 1960s archaeological equivalent of Big Brother voyeurism, only in this case it was Silbury that was in the firing line and about to suffer the worst attack on its structural integrity in over 4,000 years.

Has anyone asked, for example, where all the 1960’s spoil from the Atkinson/BBC tunnel (an intrinsic part of the structure itself) was dumped? It’s gone, vanished, along with any archaeological evidence it may have contained. If stones from the Great Pyramid had been dug out and discarded in this way there would have been an international outcry. But not here. Silbury might not be as high, nor as old as the Pyramids, but treating it as it was treated by Atkinson and the BBC was cultural vandalism. Vandalism touched with egotism, and akin to scraping off a 13th century church mural in order to find out what a 12th century mural under it might look like. But that’s only part of the story; when Atkinson and the BBC crew left Silbury at the end of the 60s the tunnel was not even backfilled. Metal tunnel struts were never removed, just allowed to corrode, and all kinds of junk, including old car tyres, ended up in the monument’s interior. The whole project (if it can be called that) is hardly different to the barrow and tomb wreckers of slightly earlier centuries who had little more in mind than the possibility of finding buried treasure and didn’t care a jot for the structures they were damaging or, in some cases, totally destroying.

For David Attenborough to argue that, ‘far from failing, TV's first live dig triggered an unlikely chain of events that recently led to the tunnel being reopened and re-examined, using modern techniques’ is surprisingly naive for a man of such distinction. Silbury very nearly collapsed at the beginning of this century; that collapse was partly due to rain seeping into the structure from the vertical shaft and weakening further the Atkinson/BBC tunnel. It’s a miracle the structure did survive (and is perhaps testimony to the genius of its builders that it did) but it now contains dozens of metal struts from the 1960’s ‘dig’ and hundreds of plastic sacks from English Heritage’s most recent ‘conservation’ project.

In the 18th century William Stukeley witnessed the almost complete destruction of many of the stones that went up to make the nearby Avebury Henge; he writes of that destruction, “And this stupendous fabric, which for some thousands of years, had brav'd the continual assaults of weather, and by the nature of it, when left to itself, like the pyramids of Egypt, would have lasted as long as the globe, hath fallen a sacrifice to the wretched ignorance and avarice of a little village unluckily plac'd within it.”

Likewise, if Silbury had been ‘left to itself’ it would not have come so perilously close to collapse, would not now be so riddled with hastily backfilled tunnels, a shaft and the detritus of recent ‘investigations’. And, if left to itself, it would, in time, undoubtedly have benefited from scientific and archaeological advances – advances which would almost certainly have given us an insight into its construction, use and meaning - without, it should be said, the use of the destructive and invasive ‘techniques’ which almost destroyed it.

* http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2010/oct/25/david-attenborough-silbury-hill-bbc

Silbury Hill 'not always a hill'

In an interview* with Evan Davis this morning on Radio 4’s Today programme, Jim Leary makes (and repeats several times) the extraordinary statement that, “The received wisdom that we had when we went into the tunnel in 2007, was that the hill was constructed as a single construct...”

What! A single construct! I’m no expert but anyone with even a passing interest in Silbury knows it was constructed in at least three phases. Perhaps Leary means he was surprised at how many phases it was constructed in, but that isn’t the impression he gives here. He's certainly keen to push his book though (see below) and the interview concludes with Leary urging millions of Radio 4 listeners to go out and buy a copy...

* http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9126000/9126720.stm