Monday, February 18, 2008

East Kennet Longbarrow

Wiltshire Downland

Visited in the autumn of 2005, still quite sharp in my memory. Wandering past Silbury, over the road, and then turning left over the bridge that spans the Kennet, through the fields, in a roundabout sort of way, then up a small steep path thickly covered with briars. At the top you came up on a trackway, to the right was an old large corrugated barn, derelict it creaked in the wind, conjuring up thoughts of hidden dead bodies strangely.
East Kennet longbarrow comes in sight, the track is a crossroad, down to the farm and village of East Kennet to the left, ahead is the farmed downs with dotted tumuli stretching into the distance. The chalk landscape, and regular lines of the field remind me of Clifford Harper drawings, simplistic strong lines etched deeply into the land.

Tired at this point, I sat down and shared my sandwiches with Moss, before we headed up to the long barrow. A barrow still untouched, similar in all probability to West Kennet, but its megaliths lie hidden beneath a layer of soil and turf.
Also trees, for this barrow sits in a ploughed field, spikily outlined by the trees that grow on it, submerged by this verdant growth, it is hidden to the unobservant eye. Trees cause a lot of dissent amongst people, their roots disturb and push the stones out of line, my only defence to this is that the barrows have been there for 4500 years, many trees and bushes would have grown and died over that period, and yet the long barrow still survives intact.

The first thing to notice about the barrow is that it is like Stoney Littleton, lying down the slope rather than parallel to the slope. It outfaces the church in the valley below by the Kennet. The field in which it sits is ploughed almost to the last wild flower by the bank, no hedgerow here, the wind is strong and the world feels bleak as I follow the line of the bank. Photographs remind me of the marvellous view back to Silbury, still as yet uncrowned by Skanska's silver fencing, she looks at peace in the landscape, the strong sloping lines accentuating her presence.

Clifford Harper Illustration

East Kennet has not been excavated though there were some 19th century explorations. It is larger than West kennet, 106 metres x 50 metres, and there seems to be megaliths in the SE under the mound. It has no story to tell, yet stands in the same landscape as West kennet, perhaps denoting some land division between the pair, there are bronze age barrows near this monument, some ploughed out, acknowledging its importance.
Two clans or tribes within sight of each other, the land around farmed or hunted by their people. For many years I had difficulty visualising such people, until one serendipitious moment when a North American Indian emerged from Stoney Littleton, suddenly my neolithic people and their landscape fitted into my mind. Free and easy they wandered the land, colour was part of their world, their beautifully worked arrows told of hunting, the marks of old timber buildings that are occasionally found in the longbarrows told of long ancestral history, the great stones they used tells us of gods and a vision of another world. Dryasdust books tells us of warfare, for some bodies in the barrows had arrowheads in them, but reading Massingham on the Downs, and he says of the later period of Stonehenge and Avebury, that they must have a very peacable people to undertake such a construction. That is probably true, Silbury itself is also part of a vision, a human vision that looked forward into the future and constructed monuments to last throughout time.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lansdown Barrows and a golden disc.

Recently I cam across the idea that the 'sun disc' found on Lansdown had been misappropiated to another site by someone called Guy Underhill. Though it is a small matter it only seemed right that the evidence should be written down somewhere. The following quote from Paul Ashbee's The Earthern Longbarrow, gives a description.

Its centre appears to have been a boss surrounded by smaller bosses, chevrons, concentric line-infilled circles, more bosses and more infilled concentric circles". He also goes on to say as a word of caution "as tentatively, and perhaps unjustifably reconstructed". This sun disc was found in bits but the photograph of the bits do have many of the features described. He goes on to say that it has "affinities with the disc on the Trundholm sun disc", which comparing the two photos it has. Other types of sun disc found in this area 1) two at beaker grave on Mere Down (Hoare1812-19) and Monkton Farleigh (WAM L11 270), describing thus; small, perforated, cruciform ornamental discs
My own feeling that it is a sun disc, comes from the fact that it is the marvellous sunrises one sees on the Lansdown, of which I have often written about, especially as the sun, rising in the east, seems to emerge from the far downs of Cherhill and Avebury, the great religious sanctuary of prehistoric times.

The badly mauled barrow just outside the entrance to Littledown Hillfort, with a further two barrows in the distance, one of which probably had the gold disc in it.

This excavated barrow (1911) sits on the edge of the scarp, overlooking Kelston Round Hill

The fragmented remains of the Lansdown 'Sun Disc'

Mick Aston's reconstructed drawing of the 'sun disc'
For many years I thought the sun disc was found in the Faulkner excavation of the barrow overlooking Kelston Hill. Subsequently I think the barrow it was found in is one of the three located in the barrow field next to Littledown iron age fort. Three barrows still remain in this arable field. There were a further three barrows within the fort itself but they have been ploughed out of existence over the last hundred years.
One of the annoying things about the slow destruction of these barrows is the fact that a few months ago I spied in a blog -Eternal Idol - a photograph of some of the stuff found up here, which had been auctioned off on Ebay, never having been recorded properly.
Luckily the sun disc was properly looked after, at one stage it made a journey to Germany, because an archaeologist at the time (C.Hawkes) believed it to be the bottom of a bronze age jug from there. The disc made its way back to this country, and is now in the British Museum.

West Entrance to the fort looking towards the Bristol Channel

Bottom of the track has remains of old stone hut, probably to do with 19th century quarrying

Bank and ditch on the east side of the fort

There seems to a cist in the centre according to this drawing

This British Camp is probably the old square enclosure in the field, thought to have been built (in haste) during the Cromwellian battle that took place up here, though it looks more like a roman 'playing card' fort.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Tollund Man by Seamus Heaney

Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.

In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach,

Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle,
I will stand a long time.
Bridegroom to the goddess,

She tightened her torc on him
And opened her fen,
Those dark juices working
Him to a saint's kept body,

Trove of the turfcutters'
Honeycombed workings.
Now his stained face
Reposes at Aarhus.


I could risk blasphemy,
Consecrate the cauldron bog
Our holy ground and pray
Him to make germinate

The scattered, ambushed
Flesh of labourers,
Stockinged corpses
Laid out in the farmyards,

Tell-tale skin and teeth
Flecking the sleepers
Of four young brothers, trailed
For miles along the lines.


Something of his sad freedom
As he rode the tumbril
Should come to me, driving,
Saying the names

Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,

Watching the pointing hands
Of country people,
Not knowing their tongue.

Out here in Jutland
In the old man-killing parishes
I will feel lost,
Unhappy and at home.

Bog Queen

I lay waiting
between turf-face and demesne wall,
between heathery levels
and glass-toothed stone.

My body was braille
For the creeping influence:
dawn suns groped over my head
and cooled at my feet,

through my fabrics and skins
the seeps of winter
digested me,
the illiterate roots

pondered and died
in the cavings
of stomach and socket.
I lay waiting

on the gravel bottom,
my brain darkening,
a jar of spawn
fermenting underground

dreams of Baltic amber.
Bruised berries under my nails,
the vital hoard reducing
in the crock of the pelvis.

My diadem grew carious,
gemstones dropped
in the peat floe
like the bearings of history.

My sash was a black glacier
wrinkling, dyed weaves
and phoenician stitchwork
retted on my breasts’

soft moraines.
I knew winter cold
like the muzzle of fjords
at my thighs—

the soaked fledge, the heavy
swaddle of hides.
My skull hibernated
in the wet nest of my hair.

Which they robbed.
I was barbered
and stripped
by a turfcutter’s spade

who veiled me again
and packed coomb softly
between the stone jambs
at my head and my feet.

Till a peer’s wife bribed him.
The plait of my hair,
a slimy birth-cord
of bog, had been cut

and I rose from the dark,
hacked bone, skull-ware,
frayed stitches, tufts,
small gleams on the bank.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Spring and Rivers round Bath

Bath is renowned for its hot spring waters presided over by the goddess Sulis, Romans used this hot water source for a series of roman baths and built a great temple to their own goddess Minerva entwined with the earlier celtic goddess Sulis.

Water by its very nature has a practical use,without it we would die, our settlements are planned round good water sources. Yet, from the very earliest times, it must also have had an important and mystical potency that we can hardly understand today, it is woven into our religious rituals. In the later iron age, when belief systems held that there was an "Otherworld", water would have been seen to mirror this world, a liminal space that one could enter.

Bath is served by the river Avon, a gently winding river that loops and curves through the Somerset countryside as it meanders down into Bristol. Along its path other streams and smaller rivers tumble down the hillside from the downs above. Sometimes this water travels underground, breaking to the surface in water spouts, or appearing at the bottom of the hill to serve medieval corn mills. Occasionally it will break free from its underground way after a particularly heavy downpour and cascade exuberantly on the surface.

Tracing these streams and springlines often uncovers places of early religious worship.

St.Alphaege Well; On the Lansdown coming up the steep lane out of Weston, there is the Well of St.Alphaege, located on the left hand side down a small unmade track to Heather Cottage. There is an old footpath that leads down to this well from the small hamlet of Blaythwaite. Chapel Farm situated on the road that runs through Blaythwaite, was once St.Laurence’s Hospice, for pilgrims on their way to Glastonbury. It could well have been that St.Alphage Well would have had special powers for the pilgrims. Apparently a farmer from North Stoke bought a roman coffin to the well, presumably as a drinking vessel for cattle.
Founding of St.Lawrence's chapel; Probably in 1302 by Bishop Hasershaw is the official date, 100 sheep on Lantesdune -but it is possible that it had earlier roots as a pilgrim's stop (Vol.8 Bath Field Club) Prior Hugh of Avalon founded the cell on Lansdown as a resting place for weary pilgrims and as a beacon for wanderers on the Downs.. A chapel have already existed at this time because of a grant made by Prior Robert to Nicholas de Lanesdun of a messuage (1 acre). Grant made between 1198 and 1219 when Robert was elected and when Jocelyn ceased to be Bishop of Glastonbury.. There are very good sketches of the chapel as it originally was in this particular article.
One further point about Chapel Farm, it stands at a slightly awkward angle to the road, facing west towards the two barrows across the road. The reason for its odd angle is that a chapel or church must have been incorporated in the farmhouse building, it leads to the intriguing possibility that the chapel was set up in direct opposition to the pagan bronze age barrows. If this is so, then it gives this site a very early beginning probably dating back to the first evangelising "desert"monks of the early centuries of christianity. It well maybe that this is one of the roman trackways leading from Brockham End to Bath; there is a notable marking of boundaries to be found east of Bath along the Fosse Way the Three Shires Stones, which delineate the boundaries of Gloucester, Wiltshire and Somerset.. though this is a mock dolmen it may actually have represented some stones that had been found here in the past.
Lox brook/Locksbrook; Another powerful source of water that can be found in Weston, is the Loxbrook, note; Lox brook = Loxan - could possibly have meant salmon from the latin laxan. This rises at the foot of Kelston Round Hill, and must have been feed by underground springs that percolated down. This powerful brook, fed two mills in the village of Weston, these two mills were mentioned in the Domesday book, the wheel pit of one can be found, at the beginning of the village at the bottom of Lansdown lane.

The other mill was at the cottages in Weston Lane. The Loxbrook must have run through the centre of the village following the main road. At the junction of the pedestrian crossing it veered to the left, through the old part of the village, the high wall, probably built in the 19th century, on the left must have been a defensive barrier, when at times it flooded.

Flooding occurred periodically, caused by heavy rainfall on the top of the hills, water would gather and release its force with often catastrophic results. At times when it floods, the water rushes through the village, winding its way past the war memorial down Manor Road, and into the small valley of gardens betwixt Weston Lane and Weston Park. It then travels across Weston Lane, down the small steep sided (probably a waterfall centuries ago) of Gainsborough Gardens to follow its path via Locksbrook cemetery to the River Avon. In the 1960s a flood occurred, that knocked down a heavy wall in the valley, and managed to drown two ponies further down the valley.

In the 19th century it is recorded that a man saved a boy from being swept away in the High Street. Even today, flooding still occurs, though obviously the brook has been culverted.
Celtic spoons found at Loxbrook; One other interesting fact is that near the end of the brook before it joins the River Avon a pair of “Celtic” spoons were found. To quote (taken from Rev.Preb.Scarth 1870). “they were found while clearing the ground for quarrying stone to form a new road, and lay near the stream, at the depth of about 7 feet”. These spoons, of which other pairs have been found in England, Wales and Ireland, are considered to be early christian spoons, probably dating from the 3rd or 4th century. Its interesting that they should be found just outside Bath, and near to a local stream. This leads one to believe that they were used for a baptismal rite, one spoon normally has a small hole in its bowl, also they are often incised with a faint cross in the bowl. The other characteristic is distinctive celtic curvilinear patterns that are found at the top of the spoons.

On a 19th century map stones are marked at this end of the Lockbrook, but they must have disappeared when the new road was built.

Bitton; In a previous essay about North Stoke, I have referred to the conjunction of the River Boyd with the River Avon at Bitton, this would only have been about four miles down the road from the Locksbrook. Again the same significance of the importance of water at a meeting place of water is highlighted. In this instance a bronze age barrow marks this spot; a couple of hundred yards away, is the church which probably also sits on old roman foundations with a mention of a “heathen temple” nearby.
Northstoke, with its strong water spout, that forms a stream that runs down the south boundary of the churchyard, (coincidentally echoing the Locksbrook that ran down by the side of the cemetery at Lower Weston) and roman villa near the church also points to the strong christian association with water, and the more practical aspect of roman sensibilities and a good water supply.
At Keynsham the River Avon meets the River Chew at a confluence. it is here that the small Chew comes to an end, flowing into the Avon quietly without any fuss. This small river Chew must have been one of the waterways that prehistoric man would have travelled along, an inland waterway linking the high downlands from the Mendips to the area around Bath. Stanton Drew stone circle, lies on a stretch of the Chew a few miles further west, and this bronze age circle has an avenue leading down to the river from the circle. This may echo what is being found in the more famous site of Stonehenge, where a long trackway from Durrington Walls also leads down to a different river Avon. These are seen as ceremonial pathways, and Stanton Drew circle with its long history of timber circles and then stone may have been part of a pattern of religious activity that we unable to comprehend today, but encompassing within it a reverence for water.
Pucan Wylle; There is also another spring that may have risen on Dean Hill Farm, this is mentioned in the Boundaries of the Lands Granted to Aethelare by King Edmund A.D.946 this little spring is called Pucan Wylle, an anglo saxon name.
Pucan Wylle is mentioned in the Bath Nat.History.Soc as being under Kelston Knoll and a 10th saxon charter gives it as a boundary;- This synd tha land gemeru the sceotath dun to Puck's Spring (these are the bounds that run down to Puck's Spring) There is also mention of a Black Spring, which could well be the "spout" marked to the west of Pen Dean Farm, "Swa up be Broce thar Black Wylle ut scyt" (from the Black Spring to the Dairy Farm to the west of where the Black Spring gushes forth). But there again there is Little Spring "Swa be Bege? to Lytle Wylle" (so by the corner/bend? to Little Spring, and then from Little Spring to Puck's Spring. Also mentioned in this Saxon list is the intriguing "Play Dyke" (from the old Cattleshed with a house attached to it which Aethelare possessed to the Play Dyke). There is also mention of Ael's Barrow, which according to this article states that it stood by the Camp (littledown) along the north slope of the great combe (Midridge?) Elle Beorh is also Aeles Beorh.........

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Roman Temple of Nettleton Shrub

Old blog brought forward July 2006

The little Bybrook that still flows through this valley

The roman temple of Nettleton Scrubb, to be found by the side of the old Fosse Way.
As always intrigued by the religious buildings that pattern our history, curiosity made me seek out Wedlake's book of Priestley's excavation of this site in the 1930s and also the 1970s . The excavation was large and uncovered three stylistically different types of temples over the time period, from probably 46 AD to the withdrawal in the beginning of the 5th century.
Let us first set the scene, the buildings were probably set up at the same time as the Fosse Way, and there is slight evidence of an earlier native shrine - Dobunnic coins have been found. There was also by the way, two prehistoric axes found in the ditches, and Lugbury longbarrow is not too far away.
So here we have the tramp of the conquering romans over the defeated local tribes, did they surrender willingly? perhaps not for there is evidence of a burnt level in the first circular temple. Subjugation comes hard and there must have been bitter feelings as the romans took over control of lands and shrines. This period as seen from the eyes of the natives can only be conjectured and imagined, but Bath which is not too far away was probably a central large Imperial estate, the many villas only coming at a much later date as hostility eased but perhaps lay simmering under the surface.
How land was apportioned or whether local people were used as slaves we cannot know, but there was a great deal of industrialisation in this part of the West country, Camerton was the source of coal for the "eternal fire" that burnt in the temple at Bath, and of course for fuelling the industrialised processing of lead from the Mendips, and later pewter making was to be found at Camerton, Lansdown and also at Nettleton Scrubb. The following photograph shows a mould for pewter making which is on display at the Roman Baths.

Pewter mould at Roman Museum Bath

There is a general plan of excavations 1938-1947 and 1956-1970 from the Priestley dig, and if the photos are to be believed many of the walls still stood at 6 foot when uncovered, but quarrying of the rock and lime burning kilns bit into some of the remains. It is a beautiful plan drawing which probably belies the difficulty of trying to reconstruct the different buildings. The shrine complex was to the west of the Fosse Way, on the other side of the road to the east stood a triangulated three ditch and bank 1st C Ad camp,

Slight banks adjacent to Fosse Way

though an editorial note says that it is interpreted as an enclosure. Cemetery A is indicated here plus 3 buildings. A road crosses from this camp heading straight to the shrine enclosure, the modern Bath/Cirencester lane bisects one corner of the camp. To return over the road to the complex of buildings that surround the shrine, one of which located down by the Northmead brook was a "strong house"....
The temple stood on a knoll overlooking the brook, and though the course of the brook has changed in modern time, it would have overlooked the brook with an entrance served by the road that came in from the east, and with a building to the north.. The whole small area of the shrine complex/settlement bounded by natural banks would have been about 600 feet square, .....

Its a beautiful little valley, fairly untouched by modern agricultural, and has become a conservation area. The slopes on either side of the brook are covered with short grasses and wildflowers, Wild flowers in the valley

and on the afternoon I was there dozens of butterflies. Walking along the path the brook is to the left, and you can also see the "canalized" effect of the old course that the romans must have engineered. Atop this bank, (and the path that you walk) would probably have been an old trackway that curves slightly round the valley. As in the following photo, the bank of the old river course can be seen curving to the right.

Looking back along the curve of the roman canal

You come to an old small wooden gate, here it is very boggy, the wildflowers (himalayan Balsam, meadowsweet, etc) grow tall and you have to cross a muddy patch, this must have been the spring marked on Wedlake's plan. Further on the path curves round over an old packhorse bridge and takes an uphill course, the brook is on your right hand side now, and there is a weir and small dam. Did not go much further than this, basically because I had no map (picked up the wrong one when I dumped the ironing and escaped the house!) but did notice that to the left there was another small gate. This would have led you to the fields atop the valley and site of the settlement behind the temple, I doubt if there is anything to be seen and it would have needed another couple of hours to conjecture what was what. Did find out another interesting fact back home, my husband, who used to teach archaeology, had in fact dug up here with Wedlake in the 1970s.

The following photo is looking east back to the modern lane/Fosse Way, and shows the high settlement ground where the first roman camp would have been, also small cemetery A, the track leading to the shrine would have come from here. It is also worth noting that the North Wraxall villa which is not too far afar, was subject to flooding over the period of its occupation, due to its low position, the Nettleton settlement fared better on high ground.

It also shows in the foreground, apart from the dog, a nettle topped bank probably the remains of an old roman building

And now to the gods.
The romans had a somewhat relaxed approach to the worship of gods, and were quite happy to twin their gods with local celtic gods. This of course happened at Bath - Minerva/Sulis. This is a simplified statement of a more complex issue, which revolves round the myths and beliefs round both celtic and roman gods. The attributes of different beliefs had to be melded into a shape or form that would have been recognisable by local native people and the different nationalities that made up the roman legions and governing class, that passed through on their way to Cirencester.The temple at Nettleton was dedicated to Apollo and he was twinned with Cunomaglus (the Hound Prince), this has been found on a dedicatory altar. Dogs were a part of the "special" animals and birds that are depicted in pagan religions. The dog in this case represents a healing power ( their saliva contains antiseptic) but they can also be found in a hunting role, and there is a sculpture of Diana and a hound at Nettleton,

they can also represent death as well. So at Nettleton they fulfil a threefold task. . Small votive dogs have also been found at the Lydney Temple overlooking the Severn Estuary.

A fragmentary part of statuary was found of Rosmerta and Mercury. Again there is a complex relationship to be read here. Rosmerta as a consort of Mercury probably represents a local celtic deity, but she could also be seen as the dominant goddess, because in irish celtic mythology the role of the female whether in healing or war was complex. She can also be found at Cirencester, in this instance with three hooded men (cucallati)? the myth of one wife/mother married to three brothers.(irish myth) Also the fertility of the female is represented in the fact that she can be found with a basket of food, echoing the three roman "matres" goddesses with their baskets/corncupias and playful dogs to be found at Bath and Cirencester. The iconography is representative of what people want, - food, healing and fertility, the fluidity of the gods reflect human expectations.

note; Rosmerta is also known as Maia, the May goddess or coming of spring maybe, Mercury can be found as a warrior, according to (Proinsias MacCana Celtic Mythology) Apollo can also be taken as a sun god as well as a healer and he states that Mercury and Lugh the Irish God are one - which would give some credence to the naming the Lugbury longbarrow, except perhaps that in Andrew and Dury Maps of 1773 the stones are called Lockstone. See also

There is a bronze face mask of Apollo, a rotund face with tight locks, it has the appearance of native work, and brings to mind the famous "celtic" head (sometimes called a Gorgon's head) on the shield of Minerva at Bath.

Note; on looking at the statuary, heads seem to have disappeared, it has been noted at Bath and at the Uley Shrine that the statues looked as if they had been decapitated, so whether it happened at Nettleton or not remains a mystery. The overthrow of roman temples around 367 AD may explain this.

Possible roman water wheel; On the east side of the Fosse Way, the Brookmead curves round from the modern bridge, having the same former roman "canalised" bank. During the storms of 1968 some large stones were exposed after the flood, and these were taken to be roman, though there is no direct evidence, except for some blue pennant roofing tile which was found in a channel, which was 1 ft 2 inches wide. After the storm a block of stone was found lying on its side where it had fallen from the ledge above. On its dressed face it had a small slot cut into it, and identical slot was found in a slot "in situ" built into the river bank, this proved to be a splayed intake.

There seems to be on higher ground an inspection platform for this waterwheel, the bottom stone step having been identified. The only datable evidence is the roofing tile to say that it was Roman, but there is no record in early maps of a medival water mill, and according to Wedlake, the use of such large blocks of stone in the wheel housing, and its position at the extreme end of the eastern side of the settlement shows that it was probably built on or about the same time as the octagonal podium, i.e.before 230 ad.

Notes from; The Shrine of Apollo at Nettleton W.J.Wedlake

The Silvanus Altar - upper part, 13x 16 inches with plain side. its dedication reads;

Relief of Diana? and Hound (Bristol Museum); 22 in. high 25in wide and 17 thick; Carving shows virtually complete figure of a hound, and part of the body and legs of a heavily draped female on the right; whilst to the left is a broad vertical frame or pilaster. Attractive rendering of the hound, powerfully built body and sinewy legs are seen from the fron and who seems to be thought of as seated on its haunches (see mongrel type dog at Pagans hill, Chew Stoke at a slightly higher level than on which the female figure stands. The dog wear a heavy collar, and its snout is raided vertically, turned towards the spectator as it gazes into the now vanished face of its human companion.... a photo of the Diana and Hound relief sculpture at the Roman Bath Museum can be found here;

taken from Prof.J.M. Toynbee.

Relief of Mercury and Rosmerta; Fragmentary and somewhat crudely carved may be the figure of these two. Headless female, wearing a long tunic and a cloak, Her right arm is horizontal and she holds a basket or cake. Male figure is badly worn right arm broken away, in his left hand seems to grasp a caduceus, maybe his right hand held a purse.

(to the god Apollo Cunomaglos Corotica, son(or daughter) of Iutus gladly and duly fulfilled his (her) vow.

two Dubonnic Coins and the fact that the shrine is a boundary one between the Dubonni and the Belgae.

This is an earlier blog about Nettleton and Jefferies 'Nails of Gold' or kingcups, still to be found at Nettleton;