Summary: Nobody had any doubt as to the purpose of "Seahenge" when it was exposed from the Norfolk coastline in 1998. Its instantly acquired nickname showed that its resemblance to that most iconic of stone circles on Salisbury Plain was striking, despite the absence of a "henge", i.e. encircling combination of bank/ditch. So why the coyness about the likely role of Stonehenge and all those other circles of standing stone, given the way they match to varying degrees the "Seahenge" template? So what REALLY was the purpose of those standing stones, assuming they were not mere open-display ornaments boasting a facility in arranging megaliths as if mere Lego bricks, but serving some deeply mysterious, some might say overhyped ritual and symbolism?
Come to think of it, what was the purpose, if any, of those curious and peculiarly British scars on our chalk and limestone plains and downs,the ones we call "henges", rarely if ever stopping to ask why?
There is a simple answer to both those questions, applicable not only to Seahenge and Stone enge, but to at least 8 other stone circles sites, ranging from the Orkneys to the Near East (and probably further afield). The answer is "AFS" (this retired scientist's coy but hopefully provisional abbreviation for the unmentionable e word that sometimes appears briefly in the media, occasionally in full, or more euphemistically referred to as "sky burial").
Late insertion: before reading this posting, one which makes a major claim that standing stone sites were for the most part sites for SKY BURIAL, I would advise my readers to do the following search: (circle standing stones cremated bones)
Note how, entry after entry, there's a reference to "cremated bone" at the base of one or more of the standing stones. Note how the reader - you - are left to assume that is the bone from cremated whole bodies. Kindly do not make that assumption. Instead, assume as I have done, that it's the bones from bodies that have first been defleshed ("excarnated") by scavenger birds (crows, gulls etc) encouraged to use those standing stones as perches. No, it's not pleasant to contemplate, but that's no excuse for totally misreading one's own nation's history, and for myopic archaeologists to bang on endlessly about "ritual landscapes", "megalithic symbolism" etc etc if, in point of fact, circles of standing stones were simply excarnation sites, with cremation performed as end-stage sterilization.
The article continues:
A circle of waterlogged wooden posts found on a remote beach in Norfolk, England, is transforming our knowledge of Bronze Age culture 4,000 years ago.
The 55 posts, together with the up-turned stump of an oak tree in the middle, were first spotted on the beach at Holme, near Hunstanton, last November. They had become exposed after the peat dune covering them was swept away by winter storms.
Norfolk County Council's Archaeological Unit identified the find as a Bronze Age timber circle dating from around 2000 BC - roughly contemporary with Stonehenge. Inevitably, the circle was dubbed Seahenge.
There you see the first and probably last use of the e word in this posting. Henceforth it will be replaced by AFS (a term I have coined, short for Avian Facilitated Skeletonization).
Left to rot
It is thought timber circles were used by prehistoric cultures to expose their dead to the elements, birds and wild animals - a practice called excarnation. The belief was that allowing the flesh to rot from the bones in the open air would liberate the dead person's spirit.
Why the coyness? Followers of my string of recent postings, here and my specialist Stonehenge/Silbury Hill site., will be able to recall or guess the reasons. This handy graphic, discovered a few days ago, provides a clue.
|No further comment, at least not for now...|
Already, one could gently charge the reporter jumbling up the facts, and failing to provide a coherent chain of thought, while not disagreeing with the candidly expressed conclusion that “Seahenge” was a site for some kind of 'you know what'...
The only tangibility is the iconic megaliths themselves, which sadly do not speak for themselves, having no inscriptions or carvings (excluding those fascinating pictograms at the Gobekli Tepe site in Turkey). Instead we have to rely on the current past and present archaeologists, straddling the fuzzy divide between science and the liberal arts, "interpreting" the stones for us, and for the most part, indeed almost without exception, averting their (and our) gaze from the obvious, namely that standing stones (or simpler timber posts) make excellent bird perches, and indeed will be quickly patronised by birds, whether that was the intention or not...
|Still more gawping tourists...|
The nitty gritty
(Afterthought: there are so many variants on the initial and evolving template - some 5 already without Stonehenge - that I've decided to place them in an Appendix at the end of tthis posting)
What’s more the site would have been illuminated immediately or shortly after sunrise in the midsummer months at least, given the orientation, with the major entrance causeway, bridging the ditch, facing the north-east, which is the direction from which the first rays of dawn appear at the summer solstice. Yes, there may be an explanation for the alignment of Stonehenge with respect to sunrise (or sunset) that has nothing to do with supposed worship of the sun, and everything to do with making an excarnation site highly conspicuous to birdlife at the crack of dawn, or maybe the first hour or so later, depending on the precise month of the year. See this blogger's simple model, made using white flour and a bright electric torch.
|Crermated bones, Stonehenge. But don't assume whole body cremation.|
Even if only from 40-50 or so individuals (from memory) that’s a lot of cremation at a site that does not strike one immediately as a crematorium, and not just because of the absence of a chimney. Why install all that stonework if it was simply a place where funeral pyres were lit? But here’s where there’s a lacuna in the litetarure, one that for some reason is never commented upon.
|Evaluation of 10 sites as prospective sky burial locations|
|(Click to enlarge) 10 iconic sites, all fitting to a greater or lesser degree the expected profile of a "sky burial" site, i.e. avian-facilitated skeletonization|
They were ALL without exception excarnation sites, because SKY BURIAL in Neolithic times was considered the done thing, the decreed norm across a broad swathe of the globe, the decent send-off that ensured liberation of the soul from the mortal remains. There was liberation to the sky, as indicated, and, at least for coastal sites, probably release of the final excarnated remains to the sea as well (Ring of Brodgar, Seahenge, Carnac). Takeaway option (by grieving relatives) or onsite-interment of cremated remains served as an alternative end- step at inland sites. The important thing to note is the relative paucity of human remains at standing stone sites, sufficient to mark then out as "a place of the dead" or similar label, but providing little evidence of wholesale burial, and only partial interment of cremated remains (suggesting widespread disposal of ashes etc into the sea or nearest river, as others before me have flagged up elsewhere on many occasions). As stated earlier, always take on board the NEGATIVE as well as positive evidence.
08:10 There's still some tidying up still to be done here, typos to be corrected, rephrasing, missing links to other sites, decisions on whether to keep this or that sentence or paragraph. But I'm in central London today to see UCL*- affilated Barney Harris's project at Gordon Square to see how many people are needed to lift a 1 tonne megalith. See previous posting with link to Evening Standard article and my comment. Decision: since I'm setting off to the station shortly, and will be out most of the day, I'll hit the SEND button shortly, and then check back late afternoon to see if there are any comments (unlikely, but one never knows one's luck).
*This blogger/retired biomedial scientist has an enduring soft spot for UCL, it being where he acquired his MSc degree in Biochemistry, and which he learned a while ago also stores his PhD thesis.
Appendix: the evolving template for AFS - British style - based on local scavenger birds, gulls, crows etc - not vultures.
|The heart of the AFS centre - perches convenient for a centre feeding station . But there had to be some kind of protection against predators, rival ground-based scavengers etc.|| |
|We are now one step closer to the upmarket Stonehenge design. Why? Answer: look closely and one can see that lintels have been added, making bridges between the tops of the timber posts, greatly increasing the 'bird-perching capacity'.|
|Here's the next stage of evolution towards Stonehenge, shown schematically.|
Leskernick Stone Circles and Stone Row
Posted 23-05-2016 at 14:48
Pleased to announce that I have gained permission for the two stone circles and stone row at Leskernick to be excavated by members of my TimeSeekers volunteer clearance group.
We will be clearing the three sites and re-exposing all of the recumbent and buried standing stones and those in the stone row as from early June.
On completion we will carry out a Survey and submit a Field Report and following that an application will be submitted to Schedule the entire site including the adjacent Bronze-Age settlement on Leskernick Hill.
Thursday May 26, 10:50
Google Search truly is the pits as this screen shot from a few minutes ago demonstrates (this blogger having adopted the unique monicker 'sciencebod' some 7 years ago when setting up this site).
|lick to enlarge|
|Here's the site Google doesn't want you to know about when searching under "stonehenge" OR "silbury hill"|
Now contrast with the no-new-ideas, have-your-credit-card ready Neolithic Portal site which appears on Page 3 of returns for Silbury Hill, and Page 8 for Stonehenge.
|Each time you click on one of those Google ads in your search returns, the placer of that ad gets charged 10p, whether you purchase or not.|
Finally, at the closed end of the innermost horseshoe, in the shadow of the tallest trilithon and now partly buried between its fallen upright, lies a stone known as the Altar Stone. This is the largest of the non-sarsen stones, a greenish sandstone from south Wales.Er, yes, do please continue EH... No? Is that all? Tell me EH, do you have some kind of problem with that Altar Stone? Don't tell me that you too are into the business of 'curating out'... Isn't that Altar stone where a body would have been laid out for the benefit of the waiting birds, perched safe and sound, out of harm's way, on those high lintels?
18:30 Saturday May 28
Hallelujah! This posting has finally reappeared on Page 7 under a Google Curate search for (stonehenge), Past Week, having appeared briefly on Monday (Past 24hrs) and then disappearing from sight. Will it make it to the Past Month listing in two days time, or again be 'curated out'. We shall see.
Update: Monday May 30
It's exactly a week since I put up this posting, and no, it did not transfer from Google's listing under Stonehenge, Past Week to Past Month. In fact, it appeared only briefly under Past Week before disappearing completely off Google's radar screen. I would recommend a visit to Wikipedia's page on "Search Engines" to see what it says about the various filters and bubbles that are now an intrinsic part of Google Curate. But if you're not on Google, you might as well not exist, to quote the old internet saw.
So where does this blogger go from here? There's no point putting up new postings, with new data that may or may not support the BIg Idea (yes. let's not hide lights under bushels - the notion that standing stones, especially in circles, implies Neolithic Brit-style 'sky burial' has to be regarded as a Big Game-Changing Idea). What the tourists will think is anyone's guess!
But if I keep adding material here, this posting becomes too long and intimidating to a new visitor scrolling down. So what's the solution? Watch this space. (Back to now cleaning the patio stones. Forget about proprietary algicides, by the way - they are a waste of time and money. Get yourself some thick bleach, paint it on, cover with a polythene sheet and leave for three or more hours. When you return you will have pristine-looking slabs without a trace of sooty black discoloration to be seen!).
Foretaste of my new strategy: goto this posting on my specialist Stonehenge/Silbury Hill site. Scroll down to the end. Note the added "Archive". I will be discussing the first three pix, added just a short while ago, from a splendid paper by Jenny Cataroche and Rebecca Gowland, purchased online this morning I might add, describing their findings re cremated bone at a Guernsey site.
Update: Tuesday, May 31 2016
Yup, can't believe my good fortune in discovering this gold mine of a paper:
"Flesh, fire and funerary remains from the Neolithic site of La Varde, Guernsey:Investigations past and present" authored by the two researchers named above.
It's one a several papers in a volume edited by Prof.Tim Thompson of Teesside University, Middlesborough, entitled: "The Archaeology of Cremation, Burned Human Remains in Funerary Studies. (Certain pages are available for free on Google Books).
Why am I so elated? Because those two ladies set out evidence from museum specimens of bones from the impressive Passage Tomb at La Varde, adjacent to a golf course, that they were (a) cremated bone and, guess what, DE-FLESHED by some means (unspecified) prior to cremation.
Quote from their paper (my underlining):
"Very few of the burnt bones/fragments were oxidized to white and none showed evidence of the shrinkage, deformation or curved U-shaped fissuring that typically signal the high intensity burning of fleshed bodies (refs). Detectable fractures were in all cases linear, and transverse splintering was noted in several of the larger fragments (ref to Fig). These are features typically seen in cases where ‘dry’ bones have been burnt subsequent to the total, or near-total, decomposition of the soft tissues (refs).Rather than indicating standard cremation this evidence argues in favour of one or more burning events, in which the bones of deceased individuals were burnt post mortem and once decomposition was at a very advanced stage".
On reading the paper, I made two predictions, first that there would be a stone circle near that tomb (there being no mention of that in the paper) and second, there might be pitting or pock marks on those bones suggestive of having been picked at pre-cremation by scavenger birds.
What do I find? There is indeed a small stone circle just 30 feet from the tomb, which even gets a passing mention in a BBC feature on the site.
Second, there is indeed pitting on a photograph of a bone in the Cataroche/Gowland paper. It's labelled "Archive 3" on my other site (see link above). OK, that pitting could be the result of something other than the beaks of birds, but that's not the key issue right now. In applying the scientific method, one's hypotheses should be accompanied by predictions. I've made two that are both borne out. The problem would have been if either had not been confirmed, NOT that there might be alternative explanations...
I look forward to hearing the views of the three aforementioned 'cremation' experts before adding more to this already overlong posting. I'm attaching just enough to give a flavour of what is turning out to be one of the most exciting research projects that I have ever tackled. Yes, with stone circles as sites for sky burial one is (amazingly) stumbling upon virgin territory where academic research is concerned. How different that is (and refreshing) from this blogger's 4 year sojourn in Turin Shroud research where, from the word go, one found oneself up against determined opposition, intent on silencing one from the outset. . (Don't expect to find me on an entry level Google search under "shroud of turin", but add extra terms like "white flour" or "oven-roasted" or "wet linen" and my final imprinting flour-assisted scorch model then appears as if by magic. Four years work, hundreds, yes HUNDREDS of postings, but I'm still below Google's radar on a simple (shoud of turin) search. There be something rotten in the state of
Here's the latest pile of steaming manure from Google:
"It's time to get real about Stonehenge and other stone circles - based on their affinity with the 'Seahenge' template"
It's time to get real about Stonehenge - Britain's premier 'SKY BURIAL' site
"Que? My predecessors' way of doing things is over, it's finished. Even they know that. I mean, in five years the Google Family is going to be completely illegitimate. Distrust me. That's all I can tell you about my business..."
Update: October 7, 2016
There's an article in today's Times (paywall!) about the standing stones of Calanais (Isle of Lewis, Hebrides, Scotland) to which I've just posted the following comment (it remains to be seen how long it takes to clear the Times's irksome insistence on premoderation):
Colin Berry 25 minutes ago
There's a simple straightforward explanation for Calanais, Stonehenge, 'Seahenge' and all those other Neolithic standing stones or timbers, and it's now't to do with those 'ritual landscapes' so beloved of the grant-hungry archaeological establishment forever spinning their waffly fantasies.
They were quite simply sites for naturalistic disposal of the dead via 'sky burial', aka excarnation via scavenger birdlife, or as I prefer to call it, AFS (avian-facilitated skeletonization). The stone or timber pillars or poles served as perches where the birds (probably adaptable gulls for the most part) could feel safe and secure from ground-based predators. AFS was often followed by cremation of the partially excarnated bones (why else would the buried bones at Stonehenge and elsewhere be CREMATED bone?).
(See most recent postings).
See also the latest posting on this investigator's other major interest, namely the Shroud of Turin, with the now highly-developed flour/oil imprinting model, first discovered some 2 years ago.