thinking about archaeology

Archive for April, 2012

Will Freeborn’s Stonehenge

There’s something odd about this view, until you see the figure in the air with his head down and you realise it’s Jeremy Deller’s blow up version. It’s a nice sketch by Will Freeborn up in Glasgow, and testament to both his draughtmanship and the accuracy of the full scale model. Down here in Wiltshire, I’m hoping it can stop off in Marlborough on its summer travels.

Who is the bird?

A few years ago we lost a pair of nesting thrushes to a neighbouring cat, and last year a pair of dunnocks left unhatched eggs in their nest. So I was delighted, when recently I was doing a bit of garden trimming, to see a song thrush nest with one new egg. And even more so when I  realised I had a pair of dunnocks flying in and out of the honeysuckle by my office window, and burrowing through the tangled growth to reach their own small nest.

But now I’m confused. I’m no expert on these things, but it seems to me the birds flying to and from the thrush nest (which now squeaks loudly on their approach) are blackbirds. The egg I saw looked like this (courtesy Wikipedia):

And the birds look like this:

Can anyone help me out? Is it possible to have two different nesting pairs very close together?



Bouncyhenge is here!

So here it is, Jeremy Deller’s bouncyhenge. Or balloonhenge, or wobblyhenge (thought I’d get in first with those three as a starter). The Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art has opened, and down on Glasgow Green is a full-scale inflatable replica of Stonehenge as it looks now (less the fallen stones, apparently for reasons of cost). Unlike the original, it’s free to enter and you can bounce around amongst the stones. It comes down to London for the 2012 Olympics, then goes on tour (I think to as yet undecided locations). Click on these images to watch a great BBC video, and more here.

Deller calls the work Sacrilege, reflecting his sense that archaeologists, at least, as he told me earlier, might be offended by it (he later emailed me details, in case “it might come as [a] shock to hear about it out of the blue”). I’m not so sure. It certainly looks to to be popular with the public, and my guess is most archaeologists would love it.

It’s very Deller. He’s known for his ambitious historical re-enactment projects, especially The Battle of Orgreave (the clash between police and miners that occurred during the miners’ strike). There’s always an unexpected side that makes you see something differently. In Acid Brass, working with others, he got the Williams Fairey Brass Band to play arrangements of acid house and Detroit techno.

Children running around a full scale inflatable Stonehenge has this sense of a humorous twist on historical re-enactments. At Stonehenge in particular, these tend to be brown, slow, quiet and humourless, but for the odd flame or strangled trumpet – quite unlike anything I imagine that might have occurred thousands of years ago. Sacrilege certainly offers the opportunity to address Stonehenge from a new angle.

There’s an industry of Stonehenge replicas. I was the archaeologist in a team that made a full-scale painted polystyrene Stonehenge for Channel 5 in 2005. It was done to look how it would have been when new, and was extraordinarily realistic, and came to be called Foamhenge. What we didn’t know at the time was that Mark Cline had made a full scale Foamhenge in Virginia the year before, looking like Stonehenge does now. Good places to start to see some of these are at Wikipedia and – best of all – Clonehenge.

Foamhenge in 2005

Foamhenge in 2005

Friends gathered in the great arena you get when you take out the fallen stones

Good vibrations

Here’s another acoustic study of Stonehenge that just arrived on my desktop. I haven’t read the full study, but judging from the press release, which I’ve reproduced in full below, it’s got more going for it than some of the others. Phrases I like:

“The present day Stonehenge shows a few weak echoes and no noticeable reverberation, but because of its derelict state these results cannot be considered as representative of the original building.”

“The data gathered does not unequivocally reveal whether the site was designed with acoustics in mind… [but] shows that the space reacted to acoustic activity in a way that would have been noticeable to the Neolithic man.”

Compare and contrast…

And here are the links:

Measuring the acoustics of Stonehenge

A stereo rendition of a folk band singing within the Maryhill replica

The photo shows what Stonehenge sounded like by the A303 today.

Airman’s Cross 1912–2012

It’s a funny coincidence that work will start at Airman’s Corner on the new Stonehenge visitor centre, almost exactly 100 years after the crash the name commemorates, on July 5 1912. In a comment on my previous post, Tim Daw drew attention to a wonderful postcard in his collection, which I’ve reproduced above (are those women nurses?). And here are some photos of the memorial I took in 2009. The Nieuport 4 monoplane had taken off from a pioneering flying school at Larkhill, where the sheds can still be seen, thought to be the oldest surviving aircraft hangars. Loraine and Wilson were the first British army personnel killed while flying on duty.



The metaphorical first turf

I’m reproducing this short document in full because of its symbolism. It’s the metaphorical first turf, the public face of the start of work on the new Stonehenge visitor centre. As it says, planning permission is there for the buildings and road changes, and they’ve got the money. It’s really going to happen!

So coming up:

May/June 2012

Work starts at Airman’s Cross

September 2012

Work starts at Longbarrow roundabout (Winterbourne Stoke)

March 2013

A344 east of Stonehenge closed

Spring 2013

Prototypes for the three “neolithic houses” for the visitor centre to be built at Old Sarum

October 2013

New centre opens at Airman’s Cross

Present facilities by Stonehenge closed and landscaping starts

Spring 2014


I know many people interested in these changes will not be able to be at Stonehenge, so I’ll do my best to post photos here as work progresses.

Meanwhile, you’ll note the announcement of a “Special exhibition” at the end of the leaflet. As the bloke who wrote the script, I can endorse those words, it’s going to be small but well worth the visit! I’ll say more about it nearer the opening.

Before that, in a few days, I’ll be writing about another exhibit that’s certain to get megalith obsessives talking. I’m sworn to secrecy about it, but you can get an idea of what might be coming from this post by the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art.

Watch this blog on April 20.

I was always late to Ikea

Paul Bahn has reminded me of this Ikea Stonehenge, which Retronaut put online a year ago, and it’s time I added it here. It was published in the QI H Annual, and created by the brilliant Justin Pollard, John Lloyd and Stevyn Colgan. What’s missing, and would be really useful, is the delivery info.


New British Archaeology

It’ll be in the shops on Friday, but for those of you who haven’t yet become a member of the Council for British Archaeology or just subscribed, here’s a preview of some of my favourite bits.

  • I had an overwhelming response from readers to last issue’s front cover exclusive – Mick Aston’s resignation from Time Team – and I’ve printed a selection of these with thoughts from Time Team’s founder and executive producer, Tim Taylor
  • Archaeologists have excavated a complete Pictish cemetery near Perth. The early medieval graves were found during routine evaluation of a field destined for agricultural development
  • Two metal detectorists searching 230 miles apart from each other have found two similar but rare objects. Made over 2,500 years ago, they are thought to be leather-working tools of a type still in use today
  • St Paul’s’ cathedral archaeologist John Schofield has written about the great medieval cathedral that was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666
  • Gabriel Moshenska (with the old sign) writes about the Institute of Archaeology’s history on its 75th birthday. It opened in a luxury London villa, under the direction of a playboy and soon-to-be TV star; its next full-time director was a Marxist who had previously worked with an illegal revolutionary socialist group in Australia. Two of the world’s greatest archaeologists – one of the things I like about this field is its variety!
  • Will Bowden thinks we are wrong to write off the Iceni after Boudica’s failed revolt, and he has a very strange building to prove it
  • Rose Ferraby and Martin Millett report on their geofizz survey of the Roman town at Aldborough
  • Ruth Young and Pakistani colleagues write about a fascinating archaeological survey in Chitral – though being surrounded by Al-Qaeda training camps, with a daily threat of kidnapping and fieldworkers protected by armed guards, did not make work easy
  • We’ve got the first of a new column from Jon Wright, on threatened listed buildings – this one about Deptford Dockyard
  • And you can read what Jeremy Deller told me about art and history

And don’t forget you can now look at it online.

I’m a great fan of Stephen Fry, but…

he did say some silly things in his blog about the Parthenon last year, which just got picked up by the media after a restitution group published an open letter to David Cameron. Returning the British Museum marbles to Greece is a single, nationalistic issue, and linking that to the London 2012 Olympics diminishes them – the games should be bigger than that. I tried to put it into some sort of context in this piece in today’s Guardian.

And look what happened in Avebury

So it’s not just Stonehenge that people were writing about in the 1870s, but other linked stuff as well, such as Avebury and barrows – as The Englishman suggested. Here is the Ngram for those three words. As well as emphasising the peak in the 1870s, the Atkinson/Hawkins effect on Stonehenge in the 60s is highlighted (not present in barrow or Avebury), and we can see different patterns for Avebury in the 20th century: interest rising in the first decade (curiously, just BEFORE Gray’s major excavations, which were finally published in 1935), seemingly oblivious to Keiller’s work there in the 1930s, and rising again in the 1990s largely before the next major excavation programme that began in 1997 and was published in 2008. You could get quite ambitious with this, carefully selecting large numbers of words.