thinking about archaeology

Archive for May, 2012

Flaming ‘eck – British Archaeology features Olympics!

Whatever critics and bloggers might say, judging by Marlborough High Street this morning most people simply love the spontaneous theatre of the Olympics. On a road known mostly for arguments about parking and stray Waitrose shopping trolleys, there was nothing but smiles. Can’t be all bad.

More on cork henges

I’m stuck in the study, so if anyone is out there with more hands-on knowledge than me perhaps they’ll add to this. The first I saw of the Soane model in Stonehenge: Monumental Journey was when it appeared in the case; that is the one exhibit in the show that I had nothing to do with. But in response to a suggestion that the Soane model might be one of Henry Browne’s, I don’t think it’s likely.

Browne first arrived in Amesbury in 1822, and appointed himself the monument’s first custodian and guidebook writer. He was obsessed with the stones, and made several models. But the Soane model must have been made before 1797, which would be too early for Browne.

Compare them. There are photos of two of Browne’s “as is” models online. This is the Ashmolean Museum’s (“as is” on left”, “as was” on right):

And this is Haslemere Museum’s (courtesy

Devizes Museum has one too, in John Britton’s cabinet.

If you compare Haslemere’s with the Soane model, you can see clearly how in the former the trilithon 57/58 (left of the large, leaning stone 56) is fallen, while in the latter it is still upright: it fell in 1797.

Browne’s modelling work is best originally described in what William Long, quoting in his Stonehenge & its Barrows (Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Society Magazine 16, 1876) called “an account… printed in a Wiltshire newspaper”. Below is the text, corrected from an online scan here; a lesser part of this was printed in The Religious Tract Society’s The Visitor, or Monthly Instructor (1851), with no source noted at all (scanned here).

“Mr. Browne, the author of a work on Stonehenge, was a man of limited means, but of respectable mental attainments, who had been early struck with the magnificence of the remains on Salisbury Plain, and had imbibed a passion for the temple at Stonehenge as absorbing and as powerful as that felt by the young Parisienne for the Belvidere Apollo, or as any one of the Pygmalion-like instances of which so many are recorded. To this, and to its illustrative remains in this neighbourhood, all his thoughts were devoted. He lived under its shadow, he dreamed of it, he endeavoured to trace out the hidden mystery of its existence, he lectured upon its many wonders, and he published a book about it. When engaged on his lectures to the members of the literary institutions that existed some years since in Salisbury, he used to bring his drawings and make his arrangements in the morning, return to Amesbury to dinner, come back with more materials in the afternoon, read his lecture in the evening, and then again walk on his solitary road to Amesbury at night after the conclusion of the meeting, having already walked five-and-twenty miles. But this persevering energy of his character was more particularly exemplified during the construction of his model of Stonehenge. Every stone was modelled on the spot, and the most minute variations in the original carefully noted in his copy. Day after day, and week after week, was he to be found among those memorials of old time – planning, measuring, modelling, painting, in the prosecution of his self-prescribed task and interrupted only by the necessity of sometimes visiting Salisbury for materials, which he bore home himself, and on foot. The difficulty of making such a copy would not perhaps be great with proper assistance, but this man worked wholly by himself, and we can imagine his self-gratulation on the completion of his labours, when he could exclaim, like the victor of Corioli, “Alone I did it ! I!” From this model he made others on different scales, and the moulds being preserved, these were afterwards sold by his son, together with some of his own drawings equally accurate, to occasional visitors.

 “Mr. Browne, though he had completed his work, had not yet found for it a resting-place, and he determined to present it to the British Museum. It was accepted by the trustees, with thanks, and the author chose to have the pleasure of placing it with his own hands in this great repository of the antiquities of the world. Unwilling to trust the model from his sight, and equally unwilling or unable to bear the expenses of the usual modes of travelling, he resolved to walk with it to London; and mounting his model on a wheel-barrow or hand-track he set off across the plain with his charge. After a toilsome and almost continuous march of two days and nights (for he only slept for a short time in the day), he arrived on the morning of the third day at the British Museum, showed the letter of the trustees to the porter, wheeled his load into the court-yard, and saw his model safely deposited in the house. He left without staying to be questioned, and was soon on his way home again; but was detained some days on the road by illness brought on by his exertions.”

He died [adds Long] at Winchester, April 17th, 1839, aged 70 years, while journeying on foot to deliver a course of lectures at Chichester. He wrote, in 1809, a pamphlet entitled “The real State of England;” in 1810, “A brief arrangement of the Apocalypse;” and in 1830, “The critical state of England at the present time.” He styles himself “Lecturer on History.”





What’s that hole in Soane’s model?

The centrepiece in Stonehenge: Monumental Journey is a cork model from the Soane Museum, brought out of store. I’d never seen it before. There are some curious things in it that make it worth a look.

Chris Evans has written about the context of Soane’s archaeological models in two similar papers, “Megalithic follies: Soane’s ‘Druidic Remains’ & the display of monuments” (Journal of Material Culture, Nov 2000, 347–66) and “Modelling monuments & excavations” (in eds S de Chadarevian & N Hopwood, 2004, Models: The Third Dimension of Science, 109–37). He tells us that Soane probably bought his Stonehenge model in 1832 from another collection in London. But no one, as far as I am aware, has examined the model for what it may tell us about Stonehenge.

To help make sense of it, I’ve labelled a few stones and included part of John Wood’s plan that was surveyed in 1740. Stone 14 fell soon after 1800, though it’s not immediately clear if the model shows that upright or stone 16, which still stands. It does, however, have the trilithon stones 57/58 and lintel 158 prominently upright. These fell in 1797, so the model must predate that year. The stubby sarsen 11 is missing from the model, but was there, and is perhaps in a drawer somewhere in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

What’s interesting, and I hadn’t expected, is to see that the ground has been modelled as well as the stones. It’s not just a flat board, but a gently rolling, crumpled surface. And what jumps out is what can only be the hollow left by an excavation, apparently by someone in search of buried stones, near the feet of the leaning trilithon stone 56. Did anyone know about that before? And if we didn’t, how many other furtive old hollows might have disturbed what we think of as ancient, pristine ground?


Stonehenge: Monumental Journey

So here it is, the gem of an exhibition inside the extraordinary, massive arch that groans under the weight of the Quadriga bronze at Hyde Park Corner. It opened on Wednesday and continues until June 24. I’ll be talking about it at an English Heritage members event on Monday May 14 (“suitable for adults”, apparently), and I’m giving a public lecture on June 7. You can read about the exhibition here, and more about the arch here.

We’ve told a story about visitors, about how people have approached the stones over the centuries, and what they have come away with. It’s not a story you often hear about, unless it’s to do with the exceptional – Druids, Travellers or archaeologists. We’re interested in the more everyday, the millions of visitors who have made Stonehenge what it is, a story about all of us. And there are some fascinating things in the show.

I discussed it with Tom Holland on Radio 4’s Making History, which you’ll be able to listen to for a few more days here (or download a podcast).

The magazine cover, incidentally (photographed just after we had excavated along that very verge), has a wonderful caption. “Some of the smaller ‘Blue Stones’… were transported from as far as Wales by some unknown form of ancient transport – doubtless very much slower that the ultramodern, 110 bhp Pearl Metallic Scirocco GLi!”. They don’t write em like they used to.


Visiting Stonehenge 10 years ago

Here are a few photos I took in 2002. I was an archaeological consultant for the English Heritage Stonehenge project, which was then at its most grandiose – the proposed visitor centre north of Amesbury, linked to the tunnelling of the A303 and other major road changes. The sandwich board was for a little exhibition in a tent about the proposed changes.


And it’s not every day we get an archaeologist in the Google doodle…


Visits to Stonehenge, 185 years apart

I was at the real Stonehenge yesterday, in warm sunshine that came from nowhere to talk to Tom Holland for the Radio 4 Making History programme (listen out on May 8). Work will start on the new centre before long, and already I’m getting little niggles of nostalgia for all the tarmac, signs and mess. The sun helps.

And here’s a nice little sketch from somebody else’s notebook, of the real thing. It’s in Abbott & Holder’s May list, where it’s described as a sketchbook page 5×14 inches, dated “Sept.3, 1826”, anon, £275.