Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Walk to Kelston Round Hill

After a day of torrential rain on Friday Saturday is at least dry, so starting early the dog and I make our way to Kelston Round Hill. First of all I see the buzzard on his watching post scanning the field for mice, he seems slightly bedraggled but that could be because of bad weather. Further on a muntjac makes it way slowly across the path, Moss chases after it but comes back when I call him. Kelston is bathed in sunlight, its fields recently mown and its prominent position in the landscape is a distinctive feature when driving back from Bristol or even from the car park at Sainsbury, so that when you are forced into that large hellhole, coming out you can look up to the yellow path of the Cotswold Way that leads up to the Hill.
But now we are approaching it from the viewpoint on the racecourse, down the path, past the newly planted Shiners Wood.

its emerging saplings buried beneath the tall plants of yellow ragweed. Great spires of fresh green teasel heads line the path, with butterbur plants growing like small bushes. Now the Cotswold Path comes to the small crossroads of green lanes, through the gates and the path stretches ahead. On the left of the path is a small headstone, a memorial to a young girl of 17 years who died of an asthma attack whilst out riding up here.

An ugly box of concrete lies discreetly in the field, a remnant of the last war, when the race course was turned into a temporary airfield.
There is the blue flowers of scabious in the hedgerow and the soft yellow/pink berries of the wayfaring tree hidden also. Through the gate to Kelston Hill, this is a permissive path, the land on this side of the hill belongs to John Osbourn, a farmer and poet. Up over the shorn grass, Moss rolling happily on the hill. At the top, you have views to Bristol,

and beyond to the great gap between the English hill to the sea and Wales. Turn to your right, looking over the flat plain in which Bristol lies you will see the two bridges that go over the Bristol Channel and the Welsh mountains beyond,

Move around the trees on the top and you will look down into the bowl of the City of Bath surrounded by its seven hills.

Someone said it was volcanic, something I had never thought of before, but presumably the hot springs would point to this, did it erupt one day millions of years ago,and throw up all its debris creating this giant bowl, or did the ridge on which the Hill sits, suddenly breach and let the seas through. Weston Village is nearer to hand, the newer houses stretching slightly up the slopes of the Lansdown. Up here with the crown of trees to wander round, and a small bench to sit on, you will find small memories of departed animals and people. Someone who breeds hounds, will bring their ashes up here to scatter to the wind, these four legged creatures that have run wildly over the hill. And just inside the trees is a young sapling, planted in memory of someone’s mother, sadly it does tend to accrue dying flowers and branch drapery!
This walk is a small reflection of the English countryside today, parts of history are caught up all along its way, the bronze age tumulus that lies behind the viewpoint, a chieftan maybe also glorifying in the view and happy to have his bones rest quietly overlooking the hill. Further down the trackway I have just walked, there were roman coffins found alongside, probably burials from the Northstoke Villa, and at the green crossroads, an old marking stone, prehistoric reused by romans probably, still sits.
The trapping of time in place means that history is always present, it is foolish to think otherwise.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Offerings at Scheduled Ancient Monuments

"Any place can be a sacred site if a group of people regard it as such. To be of more general significance, however, it also has to be given value by a wider community, and the greatest importance should be given to those valued by the nation. Thus, an ancient or historic monument becomes of general importance if it is scheduled as a site to be protected as part of the national heritage, especially if no established religious group is responsible for its upkeep. Where such places become vulnerable due to damage through overuse or misuse, then the role of a network concerned with the protection of sacred sites becomes especially relevant, and urgent. (Ronald Hutton 1997ce) "

ASLaN Sacred Site Charter
Please take care when visiting sacred sites to leave them as the next Visitor would like to find them. Respect the land and all its inhabitants -spirits, people, animals, plants and stones.

Digging holes for any purpose will damage plants and probably insects and archaeological remains. Damaging any aspect of nature will not please the Spirit of Place. Damaging archaeology may upset the official guardians or owners of the site and lead to it being closed to all.

Lighting fires can cause similar damage to digging. A fire can damage standing stones - if they get too hot, they split. Fires can spread quickly in summer, killing wildlife, and it can be very difficult to make sure a fire is truly out. Heat, candle wax and graffiti damage moss and lichens which can take decades to recover. The Spirits of Place are more likely to be displeased at fire damage than upset that you haven't lit one.

If an offering seems appropriate please think about all its effects. Don't leave artificial materials. Choose your offerings carefully so that they can't be mistaken for litter. Please don't bury things. Please don't leave biodegradable materials that may be offensive as they decay. If the site is already overloaded with offerings consider the effects of adding more.

Taking things from a site needs similar careful thought. Much of the vegetation around sacred sites is unusual or rare so don't pick flowers.

Don't take stones - they may be an important part of the site in ways which aren't obvious.
In times past it was traditional to leave no traces of any ritual because of persecution. This tradition is worth reviving because it shows reverence to nature and the Spirits of Place.

Don't change the site, let the site change you.


Whole books have been written around the word respect, it has moral, ethical and philosphical areas that cover respect for human and non-human forms of life. It is a way of percieving the relationship that exists between the beholder and the object that he or she sees. It can be subjective, but its truth should be objective. It can, and must, be applied to the relationships between people, to all forms of religion - whether we believe them or not is immaterial - and in the light of our understanding of the world around us, to all living entities, whatever form or shape they take.

Respect governs the decisions of society and how we treat each other, respect for nature is perhaps a minority view, respect for old cultures is still in the throes of being defined by what is now a modern secular society, the questions as to how we should view our past and its history, is more often than not left in the hands of a scientific handful of people such as archaeologists, who are trained in the art of excavation for instance, but who lack education in the moral and ethical rules of society as a whole, past and present.

"care respect, which is exemplified in an environmentalist's deep respect for nature. Care respect involves regarding the object as having profound and perhaps unique value and so cherishing it, and perceiving it as fragile or calling for special care and so acting or forbearing to act out of felt benevolent concern for it. This analysis of respect draws explicitly from a feminist ethics of care and has been influential in feminist and non-feminist discussions of respecting persons as unique....."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Alternative Theories For Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill like Stonehenge has many theories to explain its construction and what went on in the mind of the people who built it. Each theory has a point of reference that seems to validate its particular idea but of course speculation as to something that took place in the past is one of the driving forces that our human imagination is very good at – it is after all the reason why we succeed in the ‘survival game’.
The first idea is to see Silbury as a Sun Temple and Shadow Hill. If you study aerial photos of the mound, one thing that is particularly striking is how it casts its cone shape on the surrounding meadows. Now at the beginning of the 20th century, Silbury was seen as an imitation of the pyramids of Egypt by some folk, and their explanation was that the sun would have taken precedent over the moon because it was by the journey of the sun that the planting of crops would be measured. The division of the year into days and months. Now it is put forward in R.Hippisley Cox’s book The Green Roads of England, that if you placed a pole on top of the hill the shadow would fall north on the level meadows, the daily gauge being about four feet “or almost, exactly that of the Great Pyramid” to quote the author.
The second theory that springs to mind is by a Scandinavian author who lives locally, Loethar Respondek is his name, and he concentrates on the water that abounds round the hill, his foolish idea sadly is rather more down to earth, for he sees Silbury as a great spoil heap that is the result of a need for water and the creation of a reservoir.

­ a spoil heap created by a generation of humans facing a water crisis.

Instead the Corsham author thinks the numerous springs and streams meant the area would have provided a vital water supply to nearby settlements. In 3,000 BC a period of climatic change could have had an impact on the amount of water coming from the springs, leading Mr Respondek to believe water supplies were under threat. He came up with the theory that as the earth began to heat up, water sources evaporated during the Sub-Boreal period. "Neolithic man on the parched Downs was confronted by a looming climatic catastrophe,"
Mr Respondek said. Topsoil dried up, grassland replaced the boggy environment and the water table gradually dropped lower and lower.

This, he said, is backed up by remnants of nibbled grass in the mound, which he thinks shows livestock were brought to graze on land that was once boggy marshland. "Somehow Neolithic man had to adapt in order to ensure his survival. A way had to be found to collect and store water," he said. He believes Neolithic man started to dig a trench to reach the sunken water table, dumping the soil removed in a central pile and using fencing to keep it in place. Over hundreds of years men used more and more skilful techniques to build a series of trenches and to contain the soil, so it grew into the mound that exists today. "They didn’t intend trying to build a huge hill but the drier periods got longer and they had to dig deeper and deeper," he said. "It was built on the hoof. Silbury Hill is a spoil heap."

Of course his theory is a lot of nonsense and shows a one-sided scientific approach by a person who has not read all the relevant facts, he has of course just joined in the speculative game with his particular discipline which is geology. If he had studied some of the reports, he would have seen that many of the seeds of the plants found inside Silbury represent a wide range of habitat beside water loving plants, and damp meadow plants. Notwithstanding the most obvious clue - why did they bother with constructing a well made mound if all they were doing was throwing aside spoil to dig for water.

Putting aside weird theories it is interesting to read Jaccquetta Hawkes on the subject of Sun Gods and gnomons at Machu Picchu. Married to an archaeologist, and of course an archaeologist herself, she was fortunate to travel the world and see many of the ancient sites, and it is best to quote her description of the site of this wonderful mountain top city she must have seen 60 or 70 years ago.
"The town is built on a rock spur about a thousand feet above the valley, which itself is nine thousand feet above sea level. On the approach side it is delimited be a massive wall. The other sides are terraced with astonishing skill before they drop into sheer precipices that fall straight to where the River Vilcanota sweeps round in a bold horseshoe. This whole spur, with its green valley skirt and city crown, is enclosed by a vast cirque of rock peaks decked with slender waterfalls. The rock seems pecularily smooth and many faceted, so that these fangs glitter like cut jet. Behind them rise the white, sharp summits of the Andean giants, pointing nineteen and twenty thousand feet towards the sun, and bathed in the stillness of eternal
When she visited Machu Picchu she sat by the side of the Intihuatana, the great foursided gnomon at the highest part of the city and watching a large butterfly that circled her on this lofty eminence decided to write a book about man and the sun. Like all of us she imagined how the priests of the Sun had read the shadows of this monument and how they interpreted it for the people below.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Notes; West Kennet Palisaded Enclosures

Enclosure 1 straddles the present course of the river Kennet, whilst enclosure 2 lies to the south of the river. Behind is Waden Hill, and to the n/e the steep chalk ridge of Overton Hill.
The sites are roughly equidistant from Silbury Hill to the west and the Sanctuary to the east, being about 1 km from each. The s/e end of the West Kennet Avenue passes within 170 metres to the n/e of enclosure 2. First chalk ridge to the south lies the WKLB and EKLB. Ditches have been traced north of the river and east of Gunsight lane, on the terrace south of the Kennet floodplain meadows and in the southern edge of the floodplain meadows.
There has been no investigation in the grounds of the manor west of Gunsight Lane - buildings will mask the sight here. 1970s a pipe trench was dug along the Kennet Ave - site observed by the Vatchers, they recorded several features - postpipes, some sarsen packing and patches of charcoal. 2 ditches; more easterly was about 2m broad, the more westerly over 3 m broad, they were not bottomed by the pipe trench. They ran obliquely across the pipe trench and showed more clearly than in section a pattern of closely spaced postpipes with small sarsens and charcoal concentrations.
Other features to the west of the more westerly feature were series of smaller features; shallow scoops and stakeholes. Finds; worked flints, including scrapers, single dec.sherd (grooved ware bowl) animal bone - cattle and an ox horncore of neolithic type....1987 Sept. 5 trenches; An inner and outer ditch about 25-30 m apart were located and excavated in trenches E and F, both features were also located in trench D. An oblique ripple flaked flint arrowhead was found in outer ditch trench D, also antler samples ( 2317-2142 and 2032-1890)...... in trench C a deep broad natural channel or hollow was found - its fill was mainly R/B and then Saxon date... ...Pig bones;
The most dominant species of animal bone "it is clear that the that the comnsumption of pork was a central concern in the events surrounding the enclosure" slaughter of young pigs must have been on a considerable scale, similar perhaps to the trees felled for the palisade, pig bone in every cutting. Sampling was from less than one percent of total perimeters, but if the same pattern of deposition occured all round the ditches, original total could have run into thousands of animals (conspicious consumption and large scale feasting).
Whittle's conclusion that this maybe reflect a short lived situation, in which pigs were used to clear secondary woodland, and maybe bracken, since bracken spore has been found in the Avebury area, and may have caused an infestation. Slaughter on site, or immediate vicinity; emphasis on particular body parts, and on body sides - lack of gnawing and placing of bone by palisade posts indicate the immediacy of bone treatment. Cattle may have been valued for ritual and slaughter (greater fragmentation of cattle bones) no evidence for marrow extraction.
Ritual and deposition; animal bone was placed around posts in the process of backfilling the ditches and constructing the palisades. Slaughter, sacrifice, feasting and deposition were closely related...In late neolithic long established tradition of feasting, the enclosures were overlooked by the ancestors in WKLB, most bone concealed but some left on top as a visual reminder for later gatherings...pigs may have had symbolic meaning in their own right. Emphasis on right side may be connected with a sense of propitiousness...comparing them to tribes in Papua New Guinea - a largely vegetarian society, their pigs were bound up with warfare and peace making, spirits and ritual, reared from a young age by women. When pig numbers reached a peak a kaiko was held. Pigs were slaughtered but not all eaten they were sacrificed, the ceremony was designed to bring peace with neighbouring tribes

Tree and Gods

This thin carved branch is a goddess figure called Nerthus, found at Foerlev Nymolle in 1961." Under some stones a cloven oak branch was placed 9 feet in length. The branch possessed natural "feminine" form, suggesting a slender body, rounded hips and long legs, most distinctive features were shown by working or carving.

" Nerthus; Germanic goddess, a mother goddess who had a sacred grove on a Frisian island. At certain times Nerthus travelled inland along a recognized path, her image being placed in an oxen cart and attended by a priest, during this sacred journey, peace was expected to prevail and "all iron was put away"

She bathed at a lake and afterwards slaves who had helped in this ritual were drowned.. some say that in fact Tacitus may have been referring to Freyja, but some myths say that Nerthus was the mother of Freyja.The sacrificial bodies found in the "cauldron bogs" such as the Grauballe man and the Tollund Man maybe the "husbands" of the goddess Nerthus, sacrificed in some rite of spring after the mating with the goddess.
Male fertility gods were also found in the bogs, they are strangely grotesque, the following image (purloined from Glob) shows a rather playful nature.

Nerthus represents late Scandinavian Bronze Age earth goddess figure, a powerful female deity on which the fertility of the land and animals depended, later on she loses her power to the male deities - probably of war and Tacitus also gives evidence of this.

Also found in the bogs, apart from boats, were war spoils - silver helmets, coats of mail, roman coins, fine raiments - this war gear sacrifices were made at a time when there was strife amongst the tribal areas."When they join battle they promise the spoils of war to the war god, after victory, captured animals are sacrificed to him and the rest of the booty is gathered in one place. In many places heaps of such things are piled up in sacred places"

The above evidence is taken from Scandinavian iron age history, and their gods were somewhat different to ours, but what is interesting is the use of wood to represent their gods, and the wonderful image of the Tree of Yrgradsil, which in its mythological stories spread its great roots over their world. We have little evidence of wooden effigies in this country, though some small fertility objects have been found in the Somerset Levels, and the tree is also significant in celtic tradition.
Interestingly, phallic stone heads have been found in this country, one at Eype, Dorset. Presumably, they were brought in by the roman legion native soldiers, homesick for their own pagan gods, they would have carved replicas to worship out in the open. These heads are crude affairs, roughly shaped, and are only denoted as phallic by long necks with a head on top.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Fragments - The Mountain Spirit by Gary Snyder

ten million years ago an ocean floor
glides like a snake beneath the continent crunching up
old seabed till it's high as alps.
Sandstone layers script of winding tracks
and limestone shine like snow
where ancient beings grow.
"When the axe strokes stop
the silence grows deeper--"
Peaks like Buddhas at the heights
send waters streaming down
to the deep center of the turning world.
And the Mountain Spirit always wandering
hillsides fade like walls of cloud
pebbles smoothed off sloshing in the sea......
Ghosts of lost landscapes
herds and flocks, toowns and clans,
great teachers from all lands,
tucked in Wovoka's empty hat
Stored in Baby Krishna's mouth,
kneeling for tea
in Vimalakirti's one small room...............
Bristlecone pines live long
on the taste of carbon dolomite.
Spiraled standing coil
dead wood with the living,
four thousand years of mineral glimmer
spaced out growing in the icy airy sky
white bones under summer stars.
The Mountain spirit and me
like ripples of the Cambrian Sea
dance the pine tree
old arms, old limbs, twisting, twining
scatter cones across the ground
stamp the root-foot Down
and then she's gone.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Mistreatment of the Long Man of Wilmington

This famous site is under the stewardship of the Sussex Archaeological Society, and was given in trust to the Society in 1925. The terms of the gift include keeping it safe from injury, damage and defacement, and to keep it free from weeds, etc allowing public access to the land around the figure at all reasonable times.
One would think that this policy could be adhered to easily but no, this is the 21st century and the media on the lookout for cheap publicity has to intrude in the form of a popular ITV programme featuring two famous females whose job it is to dress its badly attired viewers properly. The particular form of abuse that the television show perpetuated on the monument was to ask 80 women to lie down surrounding the Long Man and to give him the form of a woman – all this in the name of 'female empowerment' and a quick gimmick to be featured in the programme.
The Long Man of Wilmington has been dated by written evidence to 1711, but it has many folktales in its history and could in fact be dated much earlier. In recent times it has become the focus for Pagan ceremonies, and they have naturally been infuriated by this blatant intrusion and superficial use of a cherished monument.
The Sussex Archaeological Society laid down certain strictures to the tv company and in their press release have stated that:

"Our professional staff judged that the activities involved in filming this sequence, essentially walking and lying on the monument, will not damage the archaeology underneath. Thousands of Scheduled Ancient Monuments are walked on every year, not least Stonehenge at the recent solstice."

True enough, the archaeology may or may not have been damaged, but surely a respect for our historical and archaeological past should be the first call of any historic Society and they should definitely not set a precedent of historical sites being used for cheapskate shows. One further point, the Sussex Society states that "monuments are walked on every year, not least Stonehenge at the recent Solstice". Heritage Action would also like to point out that most of the people who attended the Solstice were there for a good reason which was to watch the sunrise appearing above the horizon and bathing the stones in its light - they were experiencing an age-old event that has happened for five thousand years, very different from a two minute frivolous television appearance making a questionable statement!
For a detailed report of what took place in the name of entertainment at a Scheduled Ancient Monument, follow the link to The Modern Antiquarian and view the report from Heritage Action's South East Site Inspector, Jim Mitchell:

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Pharaoh Akhenaten's Hymn to the Sun

Part of the hymn..

How manifold it is, what thou hast made!
They are hidden from the face (of man).
O sole god, like whom there is no other!
Thou didst create the world according to thy desire,
Whilst thou wert alone: All men, cattle, and wild beasts,
Whatever is on earth, going upon (its) feet,
And what is on high, flying with its wings.
The countries of Syria and Nubia, the land of Egypt,
Thou settest every man in his place,
Thou suppliest their necessities:
Everyone has his food, and his time of life is reckoned.
Their tongues are separate in speech,
And their natures as well;
Their skins are distinguished,
As thou distinguishest the foreign peoples.
Thou makest a Nile in the underworld,
Thou bringest forth as thou desirest
To maintain the people (of Egypt)
According as thou madest them for thyself,
The lord of all of them, wearying (himself) with them,
The lord of every land, rising for them,
The Aton of the day, great of majesty.

Aton or Aten was the sun-god that was brought to importance from being a minor god to the sole god, it was in fact a step forward from the worship of many gods to the worship of one god. It was the pharaoh Amenhotep 111 that established this change, his son Akhenaton established this solar god then took it on himself to create another new city, and abandoning Thebes chose a place by a river's curving bank and built the city of Akhetan. He moved here with his wife Nefertiti and their three children. There were two temples, one dedicated to the rising of the sun Aton, the other to its setting, this temple was presided over by Nefertiti. Of course it did'nt last long, jealous priests saw to that, and the city was overthrown and the fate of Akhenaton and his family unknown.

ref; Man and the Sun - Jacquetta Hawkes.