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8 November 2013

Current Archaeology 285, December 2013, has a story about the discovery of a boat building site on the shores of an Ice Age lake on the outskirts of Monmouth – with access to the sea via the river Wye. While that caught my eye the boat building was much more recent – the Bronze Age in fact. It is thought the site was used to construct outrigger canoes of the kind still used in Fiji in the 19th century.

Two standing stones at Penrhos Feliw, are aligned on Holyhead Mountain, roughly 10 feet apart and 10 feet in height.

An article on Early Anglo-Saxon England tells us of the use of Bayesian C14 methodology to narrow down precisely when the aristocracy of the time stopped including grave goods in the burials of their loved ones. It coincided with the arrival of Theodore of Tarsus, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in ad690. He was an import from the Byzantine Empire rather than a Roman, and presumably pagan practises that involved grave goods had gone out of use in what is now modern Turkey. Tarsus was also associated with the Apostle Paul and therefore had an early association with Christianity. Prior to his arrival the Church in England had not interfered too much in the burial practises of the ruling elite, the newly arrived Anglo-Saxons. It is being hailed as solid proof the Bayesian system works.

At Dorstone Hill in Herefordshire what was thought to be the leftover ramparts of a Neolithic 'causeway camp' have turned out to be two barrows. Trenches cut through both revealed a fascinating piece of history. Originally, the site where the two barrows are located, on top of a prominent hill with wide views, were two huge halls (or timber buildings of unknown purpose) dating back 6000 years ago. Even more novel, to date, was the fact the barrow was in part constructed from the burnt remains of the two halls – evidenced by charred timbers and burnt clay debris. This had been heaped up in the centre of the barrows and the covered with earth and grass turves. Is this another example of the ritual destruction of a site that had gone out of use, and subsequent burial. This practice is most commonly known from Mesoamerica but there has been the odd incident of that happening over here as well – and no doubt, in future, archaeologists will pay more attention to what was actually underneath the barrows rather than being primarily concerned with what was inside them. It also raises a question mark – were the two halls deliberately destroyed by humans, or were they first suffer damage by an accidental fire prior to their 'decent burial' in a suitable communal grave setting, preserved for posterity. We might also like to consider if they were destroyed by fire with a cosmic source, such as a meteor or comet, or a lightning bolt or any kind of mechanism with an origin in the natural world. See www.archaeology.co.uk

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