Monday, 19 October 2009

Stonehenge's controversial new visitor centre finally gets go-ahead

Stonehenge, Britain's most mysteriously resonant World Heritage Site, is finally going to get a visitor centre fit for the 21st century.

The fight to create it has been tortuous, but from the wreckage of the £0.5bn plans finally dumped in 2007 comes something that will settle, feather-light, in a shallow, grassy swale at Airman's Corner, a mile and a half west of the neolithic stones near Amesbury, Wiltshire.

The new visitor centre's thin undulating roof, held up with slim and occasionally crooked columns, recalls the current temporary Serpentine Pavilion in London. The scheme, designed by Denton Corker Marshall, will cost £26m – one-twentieth of the original project by the same architects. "Sir Philip Green probably spent more than that on his son's bar mitzvah," commented one leading British architect.

The centre will not be visible from the stones, and an existing line of mature beech trees will screen a new coach park from view. By siting functions such as catering and offices next to the coach park, two pavilions beneath the centre's canopy can be used solely for exhibitions, retail and education.

The design was developed by Barrie Marshall and Stephen Quinlan, who won't mind if the building is forgettable. "Our proposal seeks not to compromise the solidity and timelessness of the stones," Mr Quinlan told The Independent. "If a visitor can remember their visit to the stones but can't remember the visitor centre they passed through, we will be happy.

"We've tried to satisfy the brief with a design which is universally accessible, environmentally sensitive, and at the same time appears almost transitory in nature."

The design of the building steers a fine – if not literally wavering – line between permanence and transience. A source said: "The new visitor centre is meant to last several years until a permanent one can be built, but it's bound to become permanent because we don't, as a country, always commit enough money to projects like this."

The scheme will restore Stonehenge's immediate natural surroundings by upgrading the Longbarrow roundabout, creating a new one north of it at the current junction of the A360 and A344 – and then restoring most of the latter to open land as it passes north of the stones. The destruction of the existing, rather grungy visitor centre will be heartily cheered by anyone with any aesthetic or environmental sensitivity; as will the fact that the new structure will draw its water from an aquifer beneath it, generate internal warmth using a ground heat-source pump, be approached on natural rather than paved paths, and transport non-walkers to the megaliths in a Tellytubby-ish "trundler" train similar to that used at Kew Gardens.

There remains a nominal threat that the new design will be called in for a public inquiry by the Government. Bearing in mind the costly shambles created by previous implacable disagreements between the project's key players, this seems inconceivable.

Indeed, a carefully brokered peace seems to have broken out: the South West Regional Development Agency, the National Trust, and Natural England have all endorsed the scheme in principle. Wiltshire County Council will now filter the scheme through a formal public consultation process, the final act in a cultural saga that will bear its architectural fruit just in time to welcome a surge in visitor numbers to Stonehenge during the 2012 Olympics.

Has the original Labyrinth been found?

A disused stone quarry on the Greek island of Crete which is riddled with an elaborate network of underground tunnels could be the original site of the ancient Labyrinth, the mythical maze that housed the half-bull, half-man Minotaur of Greek legend.

An Anglo-Greek team of scholars who undertook an expedition to the quarry this summer believes that the site, near the town of Gortyn in the south of the island, has just as much claim to be the place of the Labyrinth as the Minoan palace at Knossos 20 miles away, which has been synonymous with the Minotaur myth since its excavation a century ago.

The 600,000 people a year who visit the ruins at Knossos are told the site was almost certainly the home of the legendary King Minos, who was supposed to have constructed the Labyrinth to house the Minotaur, a fearsome creature born out of a union between the king's wife and a bull.

But the scholars behind the latest expedition to find the Labyrinth believe the cave complex near Gortyn, which was the ancient Roman capital of Crete, could be an equally plausible candidate for the site of the Labyrinth – if indeed there was any truth in the idea that the myth was based on a real place and a real king.

Nicholas Howarth, an Oxford University geographer who led the expedition, said there was a danger of Gortyn being lost from the story of the Labyrinth because of the overpowering position that Knossos had taken in the legend, a position fostered by Arthur Evans, a wealthy English archaeologist who excavated the site between 1900 and 1935.

"People come not just to see the controversial ruins excavated and reconstructed by Evans, but also to seek a connection to the mythical past of the Age of Heroes. It is a shame that almost all visitors to Knossos have never heard of these other possible 'sites' for the mythical Labyrinth," Mr Howarth said.

Working with experts from the Hellenic Speleological Society, the Oxford researchers found that the cave complex at Gortyn had been visited recently by archaeological thieves who were preparing to dynamite one of the inner chambers in the hope of discovering a hidden treasure room.

The caves, which are known locally as the Labyrinthos Caves, consist of about two and half miles of interlocking tunnels with widened chambers and dead-end rooms. They have been visited since medieval times by travellers looking for the Labyrinth, but since Knossos was rediscovered at the end of the 19th century they were neglected, and were even used as a Nazi ammunition dump during the Second World War.

"Going into the Labyrinthos Caves at Gortyn it's easy to feel that this is a dark and dangerous place where it is easy to get lost. Evans' hypothesis that the palace of Knossos is also the Labyrinth must be treated sceptically," Mr Howarth said.

"The fact that this idea prevails so strongly in the popular imagination seems more to do with our romantic yearning to believe in the stories of the past, coupled with the power of Evans' personality and privileged position," he said.

In addition to Knossos and Gortyn, there is a third cave complex at Skotino on the Greek mainland that could also be a contender for the site of the Labyrinth. "If we look at the archaeological facts, it is extremely difficult to say that a Labyrinth ever existed... I think that each site has its claim to the mystery of the Labyrinth, but in the end there are questions that neither archaeology nor mythology can ever completely hope to answer," Mr Howarth said.

Andrew Shapland, curator of Greek Bronze Age at the British Museum in London, said the siting of the Labyrinth was a "hoary old chestnut" that refused to go away. Gortyn has been visited by travellers looking for the Labyrinth since the 12th century.

"But I think Knossos really has a better claim because it is based on the classical tradition rather than the later tradition of travellers," Dr Shapland said. "Knossos is mentioned in Homer. If the Labyrinth is a real thing, it was the way in which a site such as Knossos was transmitted into later Greek myth."

More info here

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Cut marks on bone suggest burial rituals of Early Britons

Research on human remains from Kent’s Cavern in Devon has led scientists to believe that humans from the Mesolithic period (after the Ice Age) may have engaged in complex ritualistic burial practices, and possibly cannibalism.

Oxford University researchers examined a fragment of arm bone from Devon’s famous prehistoric cave. They conclude that it belonged to a human adult and the seven cut marks it carries were made by a stone tool. The cut marks are significant because they are believed to be consistent with the act of de-fleshing or dismemberment.

Cut marks have been recorded on human remains from the preceding Upper Palaeolithic period at Gough’s Cave, Cheddar Gorge. But this latest find at Kent’s Cavern reveals another new element, as the fragment of forearm is also fractured. This was probably done while the bone was still fresh.

The possibility of cannibalism has been considered by some archaeologists at Gough’s Cave, and can be considered at Kent’s Cavern as well, although the case for this theory is by no means certain.

The bone was examined and radiocarbon dated by a team from the University of Oxford’s School of Archaeology.

Dr Thomas Higham, from the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, said: ‘Our radiocarbon dating is very accurate because the bone was particularly well preserved and shows the bone is just under 9,000 years old. It was found in the black mould layer of Kent’s Cavern and is the oldest date yet attained for any specimen from that layer.'

Human remains from the Mesolithic period in Britain are very rare with no other known examples showing cut marks except at Gough’s Cave.

Dr Rick Schulting, from the School of Archaeology at Oxford University, said: ‘The co-occurrence of both the cut marks on the bone and an apparent fracture, which seems to have occurred around the time of death, makes this find particularly interesting and may shed some light on the circumstances involved. Both are relatively rare in British, and indeed European, prehistory. Perhaps they are evidence of early humans being engaged in cannibalistic rituals, complex and extended burial practices or dismemberment for transportation.

'We can clearly see a series of fine parallel lines on the bone. These cuts may have been made to help the body decompose more quickly and speed up the process of joining the ancestors. Finds like this highlight the complexity of mortuary practices in the Mesolithic period, many thousands of years before the appearance of farming in the Neolithic period, which is more usually associated with complex funerary behaviour.’

The bone fragment had been kept among animal remains in storerooms at Torquay Museum, where it was noticed by curator Barry Chandler during ongoing research and documentation involving the Kent Cavern collections.

Torquay Museum’s Curator of Collections, Barry Chandler, said: ‘I noticed the ulna fragment in a group of bones from the black mould layer. The cut marks, which are in several groups, were immediately noticeable; but the excellent preservation of the bone made me believe it was probably from the Bronze Age or maybe Neolithic so the 9,000 year old date came as a bit of a shock.’

Early archaeologist and geologist William Pengelly first discovered the bone in 1866 in the black mould layer of the ‘Sloping Chamber’ of the cave. The interpretation of the Kent’s Cavern find is hampered by the age of the excavation and the poor records from this layer of the dig. Other fragments of human bone have been identified from the same area of the Sloping Chamber and it is hoped more detailed analysis of the rest of the remains will follow.

The research is part of a larger project examining prehistoric violence in a European context, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Provided by Oxford University

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Save America's Wolves!

The hunting and mass killing of wolves will begin soon in Idaho and Montana -- and not even wolf pups and their mothers will be spared.

We cannot stand by while this slaughter unfolds. On May 4, the Interior Department stripped wolves of their federal protection, and government agents are now free to open fire.

Even worse: Idaho and Montana will soon launch public hunts targeting wolves. Hundreds of wolves could be gunned down.

When wolves lost their federal protection in 2008, 110 of them were killed in just 120 days!

NRDC is fighting in federal court to save the wolves, but it's critically important the Obama Administration hear directly from outraged Americans like you.

That's why NRDC is expanding "The Big Howl" campaign to mobilize Americans everywhere to save wolves in the Northern Rockies from the crossfire.

Please tell the Obama Administration to call off the guns.

Call on Interior Secretary Salazar to reverse his decision to kick wolves off the endangered species list.

This is absolutely the wrong time to rip away federal protections from these struggling wolves. Over the past year, the wolf population in Yellowstone National Park has declined by 27 percent, with more than 70 percent of wolf pups succumbing to disease.

One pack alone lost all 24 of its pups!

With federal protections lifted, wolf pups and their mothers traveling outside national parks will be in the line of fire.

That's why NRDC and our partners filed suit in federal court to block this disastrous policy. But we must do more: we must raise a nationwide outcry that the Obama Administration cannot ignore.

And so we're calling on everyone who cares about wolves to take part in "The Big Howl" campaign.

Please call on the Interior Department to go back to the drawing board and submit this cruel plan to the kind of rigorous scientific review the Obama Administration has promised.

Because you have always stood up for wildlife, I'm contacting you now to take part in "The Big Howl" campaign.

After you send your own message, I will let you know about an easy way to spread the word to your friends and family. We need at least one million messages to save the wolves -- so get ready to rally your friends and family to add their own voices to "The Big Howl."


Frances Beinecke
Natural Resources Defense Council

P.S. Hearing the wolf howl after you take action is a poignant reminder of why we must act swiftly to save these treasured icons of the American West. So please speak out today, and then tell everyone you know to take part in "The Big Howl."

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

HAD Conference Leicester 09. Honouring the Ancient Dead: ensuring respect for ancient pagan remains

Essentially this is about respect - having worked with human remains myself it is staggering the difference between carefully handling a bag of disarticulated bones, which to all intents and purposes look and feel unreal and then to realise that these remnants of the past breathed, loved, throught, feared the same as I. One particular incident with a female skull, where the still-clumped earth across its face seemed to echo the delicate features this woman may have had, suddenly truly brough home the fact that I was dealing with a real person - she could not have been more alive if she had stood up from the bench and talked.

While one friend (undergoing her MSc in forensic archaeology, currently) whose pragmatic approach got the job done fast and expediently deftly dealt with the remains in her singularly practical manner, I felt it right and proper to work more slowly, almost sombre in my attitude, this (albeit early Christian) woman deserved the care and attention of a modern Pagan as much as she was given by her loved ones.

It is oft remarked that 'burial is for the living', that the ones remaining who show care and consideration for the physical remains of their loved one require this inevitable ritual and I would concur, for if we cannot treat the dead with respect, what hope is there for the living?

Conference – 'The Care of Ancient Human Remains' 17 October 2009
New Walk Museum, Leicester

Honouring the Ancient Dead (HAD) is pleased to announce it is hosting its first independent one day conference on the care of ancient human remains. Conference themes will cover the leading edge of current thinking from prominent speakers - representing museums, social anthropology, national human remains specialist groups, as well as the Pagan perspective that is central to AD. Conference participants will be invited from a wide community of archaeologists, museums, overnment departments responsible for human remains, together with Pagans and others with special interest in their care.

Opportunity for discussion and questions has been built in to the agenda, and papers given at the conference will be published following the day.

This one-day conference aims to explore the current issues around value, custody and interest in human remains, with particular focus on how the institutions that maintain custody engage with those external communities who have a special interest in the remains. The conference is organised by HAD, who as part of the conference will clarify its own position in developing and maintaining dialogue and facilitating access to and consultations on human remains. The speakers are invited from amongst those who have worked with or engaged with HAD. Discussion will play a key part in the conference. The results of the conference will be used within subsequent discussions relating to the respectful treatment of ancient British human remains held between HAD and institutions such as museums or government departments.

`The Matter of Bones': Human bones are curious things: both person and object, yet neither wholly one nor the other, they affect us, altering how we perceive life and death, self and others, community and relationship. From a social and cultural anthropological perspective, this paper explores why and how bones matter to the living, and indeed what that matter - physically and emotionally - actually is. Furthermore, why and how does their significance inform what we do with them?

`Consultation and Display': Best practice in museums, following the guidelines of the Museums Association Code of Ethics, is to involve audiences and communities in consultations around future displays. This paper reports on a successful consultation around the redisplay of the Iron Age gallery at Colchester Museum.

`The Issue of Custody': While museums and other institutions generally accept they have custody not ownership of remains, recent re-interpretations of the law by the Ministry of Justice have made it more difficult for archaeologists to excavate and retain human remains for more than two years. There is, however, still lack of clarity; this paper seeks a path through the minefield.

`The Pagan Voice': Though political correctness requires museums respectfully process requests from overseas communities seeking to repatriate ancestral remains, when British Pagans express significant interest in remains museums have no effective guidance as to how to respond. This paper explores the theologies that underlie the Pagan spiritual connection to human remains, and asks what language would be better employed by heritage organisations in such discussions.

`Practical Respect': What may be seen as respectful of human remains within one culture may be felt as desecration for another. This paper explores how consultative processes can ensure that the various notions of respect are given equitable value, and integrated into the process of decision making around the excavation, retention, storage, and disposal of human remains. How can these be put into practice, who holds responsibility and who bears the cost?

Presenters confirmed:
• Dr Joost Fontein & Dr John Harries, Social Anthropology, University of
• Philip Wise, Heritage Manager, Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service
• Professor Piotr Bienkowski, Professor of Archaeology and Museology, University
of Manchester
• Emma Restall Orr, Honouring the Ancient Dead


Notes to Editors: -
For print and online journalists: Please also note the distinction of a capital `P' for the established religion of modern-day Paganism (the seventh largest faith tradition in Britain) and `pagan' with a small `p' to denote the ancient pagan community.

Archaeosophia says: we have had the pleasure of working with the outstanding Dr John Harries and can confirm this will be a most excellent and thought-provoking conference with the potential to make a real difference in how we perceive and react to the physical remains of the ancestors.

HAD office, PO Box 3533, Whichford, Shipston on Stour
Warwickshire CV36 5YB, England
tel : 01608 684848 email : office@...
website :

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Ancient Code

Archaeosophia is very honoured to have been invited to submit an article for the up-coming book, "The Ancient Code" to accompany the film of the same name.

Continuing the theme of the film, the book contains contributions written by many authors expressing their opinions on subjects such as history and ancient cultures, society, materialism, spirituality and our own unique connection to nature and how we have possibly missed the point and gone too far into a materialistic society which is doing our individual psyches no good.

Edited by best selling author, TV chat show-host and award winning film-maker, Philip Gardiner, the book promises to be a diverse collection of works by such luminaries as Prof Hugh Montgomery, John Jay Harper, Brad Steiger , Dr Tim Wallace-Murphy and others.

For more details on the film and book, please visit
The Ancient Code Website
Gardiner's World
Phil Gardiner's Blog

Ancient The Quest For Truth

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Ivory sculpture in Germany could be world's oldest

A 35,000-year-old ivory carving of a busty woman found in a German cave was unveiled Wednesday by archaeologists who believe it is the oldest known sculpture of the human form.

The carving found in six fragments in Germany's Hohle Fels cave depicts a woman with a swollen belly, wide-set thighs and large, protruding breasts.

"It's very sexually charged," said University of Tuebingen archaeologist Nicholas Conard, whose team discovered the figure in September.

Carbon dating suggests it was carved at least 35,000 years ago, according to the researchers' findings, which are being published Thursday in the scientific journal Nature.

It's the oldest known piece of figurative sculpture in the world," said Jill Cook, a curator of Paleolithic and Mesolithic material at the British Museum in London.

Stones in Israel and Africa almost twice as old are believed to have been collected by ancient humans because they resembled people, but they were not carved independently.

The Hohle Fels cave discovery suggests the humans, who are believed to have come to Europe around 40,000 years ago, had the intelligence to create symbols and think abstractly in a way that matches the modern human, Conard said.

"It's 100 percent certain that, by the time we get to 40,000 years ago in Swabia, we're dealing with people just like you and me," Conard told The Associated Press, referring to the southern German region where the sculpture was recovered along with other prehistoric artifacts.

Conard believes the 2.4-inch-tall (6-centimeter) figure may have been hung on the end of a string. The left arm is missing, but Conard said he hopes to find it by sifting through material from the cave.

The Hohle Fels sculpture is curvaceous and has neither feet nor a head, like some of the roughly 150 so-called Venus figurines found in a range from the Pyrenees mountains to southern Russia and dating back about 25,000-29,000 years.

But Cook warned against trying to draw any connections between the Venuses and the Hohle Fels figure, saying that would be like comparing Picasso to a classical sculptor -- too much time had passed.

"I wonder whether at this point we're looking at figures which are unique within themselves and unique within the cultures that they're arising in," she said.

Archaeologist Paul Mellars, of the University of Cambridge, suggested a clearer continuum.

"We now have evidence of that sort of artistic tradition of Venus figurines going back 6,000 years earlier than anybody ever guessed," he said.

Neanderthals also lived in Europe around the time the sculpture was carved, and frequented the Hohle Fels cave. But Mellars said layered deposits left by both species over thousands of years prove the sculpture was crafted by humans.

"Nothing within a million miles of this has ever been found in a Neanderthal layer," Mellars said.

The archaeologists agreed the sculpture's age and features invite speculation about its purpose and the preoccupations of the culture that produced it.

Cook suggested it could be symbol of fertility, perhaps even portrayed in the act of giving birth.

Mellars suggested a more basic motivation for the carving: "These people were obsessed with sex."

Conard said the differing opinions reinforced the connection between the ancient artist and modern viewer.

"How we interpret it tells us just as much about ourselves as about people 40,000 years ago," he said.