Monday, December 7, 2009

A Trip

Holme Next the Sea - site of Sea Henge

In a few days time we will be going to King's Lynn to see the Seahenge timbers now exhibited at the museum there. As only a couple of days are allowed for the trip, what to see is a big 'exciting' issue for me, will it be the beach where the circle of timbers were found on at Holme or the ruins of Castle Acre Priory, we'll see, but Francis Pryor's book Seahenge certainly whets the appetite for the scenery around the fenlands. Though to be quite honest only part of the book covers Seahenge.

It has had a controversial past, the taking of the timbers from the beach provoked pagan/druids and new agers to take a stand for keeping it where it was found. The great upended tree trunk in its centre had a certain sacred air to it that defied the logical approach of archaeologists, to take and examine this enigma from the sands that had so long covered it. There has been plenty of practical things learnt from this excavation, honeysuckle ropes twined in threes, reminding you of the plying of wool. The knotting of these ropes around the tree to show the way it was lowered into the ground.

The 55 timber posts (although the numbering is into the 60s which is a bit confusing), logs half cut so that their cut 'face' looked inward whilst the barked wood on the outside would present a solid wall of timber to those who came to the site in prehistory. The central oak (167 years old) was it felled or did it fall over in a gale? Pryor gives us the idea that they might have pulled the tree from the top with ropes, shaking it in its root hole till it eventully fell, its bark then stripped.
There was a small 'opening' in the timber wall, consisting of an 8 inch post that had a deep 'v' notch in it for stepping over into the circle, the timbers themselves Pryor reckons must have stood at three metres tall, with another metre buried in the soil. Dating gives the central oak tree a date of 2050 bc, and the posts the next year 2049 bc, there felling seem to have taken place in the late spring/early summer months when the trees were at the full height of their growing period, not exactly the right time to fell trees, and perhaps thereby signifying a religious need to take the 'fertility' of the trees to acknowledge the importance of the shrine, which I shall call it for the time being....

More importantly, what was it for? a small shrine for a local family, a place of excarnation for the dead, the body draped over the roots of the tree, there is no evidence of a barrow inside the small ecliptical circle, whatever there is, is a mystery to puzzle over. That the place had a liminal quality goes without saying, near to the sea but constructed on 'dry' swampland (when the holes for the timbers were dug, the ground level water would have filled up); it could have marked a boundary line, there is no evidence of settlement nearby, but such place for the dead were often in prime 'loci' places. Pryor looks towards to the Danish culture for similarities, and here we see the symbolic notion of a three world system; the sky world, middle-earth and the underworld, the upended oak tree symbolically communicating between the two latter worlds, or perhaps a fertility act.
Like many I was sad that the circle had to be excavated, whether for good reasons or not, it seemed an act of vandalism, to be honest I am still in two minds, we have learnt some important facts, dating, use of axes, ropes and a bronze age mindset we know little of, the argument against leaving it to the mercies of the sea was that it would eventually disappear by the corrosive action of the tides. One small factor that Pryor dwells on rather sadly was the removal of a piece of the oak tree by chain saw by English Heritage when the tree was still in situ; it does seem that the acquisition of knowledge often does not give due respect to that which has gone......

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