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Mesolithic Amesbury

20 April 2013

The BBC television had a programme on Stonehenge and environs last week fronted by a very over excited presenter. I lost track of how many times he enthusiastically repeated the mantra that evidence for Mesolithic people had been found near Stonehenge at a previously unexplored site known as Vespasian's Camp, named after a prominent Roman general and emperor (for reasons that went unexplained). If he told us once he told us fifty times this supposedly new piece of archaeological information. However, it can be found in Mike Parker-Pearson's book, Stonehenge, Simon and Schuster:2012, together with a lot more relevant information. Wooden posts going back to the Mesolithic were found in the Stonehenge car park many years ago – and they are marked out even today with white paint. Apart from the irritating way the BBC editor presented the story, in a sort of Blue Peter format that was annoying, their web site provides the nitty gritty of what it was all about – see www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-22183130

An Open University archaeologist, David Jaques, a name to remember for the future, took a gamble. There is a natural spring at the site (used in the medieval period by the Amesbury abbey) and he thought this would have attracted people to the pristine clear water welling up through the chalk geology and this proved to be true. Mesolithic people during the early and mid Holocene were active in the area, and they used the springs not only to quench their thirsts but to prey on the animals also attracted by the water. However, neither did the BBC television programme or their web site explain the climatic differences between when these people were active in the valley of the river Avon and now – it was at the climatic optimum. Similarly, the cameras rolled downstream to Hengistbury Head (another Iron Age hill fort) on the seashore and described the situation as if the coastline was the same as it is now when the Mesolithic people were active – and it most definitely was not. Sloppy production, and poorly researched.

Meanwhile, at www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-22199507 … the BBC turns its attention to Bronze Age farming activity which has been plotted in Norfolk, most notably in the flat region now associated with the Broads. This means that Norfolk in the second millennium BC was somewhat akin to the present landscape – but without the lakes created by peat cutting. The piece is again meagre with the facts as it ignores inroads by the sea that have periodically drowned the flat zone and gave rise to the peat beds. As far as the Bronze Age is concerned it is well known that intensive field systems have their origins at this point in time, replacing the former largely pastoral rural economy of the Late Neolithic era. See Francis Pryor, Farmers in Prehistoric Britain, Tempus:1998, written by an archaeologist, and farmer.

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