Thursday, August 25, 2016

Durrington Walls (Nick Snashall in USA Today)

USA Today inters Dr. Nicola Snashall, who also blogs FragmeNTs Stonehenge & Avebury blog in the sidebar.  "You Know Stonehenge.  This is Superhenge."  USA TODAY

This excavation wrapped up sometime last week, so now that I've had a few moments to get my mind around this discovery I'll speculate on what could be the significance of this dig based on just a few things Ive read.

Posted by MegalithomaniaUK

Durrington Walls was excavated by the National Trust of Stonehenge and Avebury [here].  It was previously thought that the enormous enclosure was partly surrounded by large megaliths as ground radar had previous suggested.  Rather what archaeologists found was very deep post holes that were weirdly uninstalled after their installation.

Durrington Walls and nearby Stonehenge had either complementary or competing purposes depending on the interpretation.  Likely, Durrington Walls contained a bunch of huts where the people who built Stonehenge lived, and then both structures had a (possibly simultaneous) phase where they were improved, again 'possibly' concordant with the Beaker phase, although I'm not sure anything from the Beaker culture is found at the occupation site.

So unlike the very sad and disappointed headlines of the British press for not finding gigantic stones beneath the soil, I'll say that this find opens up a very intriguing possibility instead, based on where these posts were located outside the ditch.  

It seems possible that these post holes could be the piles of a large lever engine, similar concept to a shaduf, and used to excavate the enormous fifteen to twenty-something foot ditch that surrounds the town, or whatever it is.  I imagine something like this being reassembled many times as the shadufasaurus is moved along the perimeter.
If I understand correctly, some of the timbers appear to have plucked out of the ground which could mean that, like modern tower cranes, the 'excavator' was used to partially assemble and disassemble itself or at least its footings.  This is all speculation based on reading a couple of paragraphs and it could be that the ditch is too far from posts for it to make any difference. 

It's entirely possible that people with baskets, picks and shovels excavated all of this one basket at a time, however two miles away the same people stacked stones at Stonehenge.

On a separate note, thinking more broadly about ditched enclosures in general and quickly infilled ditches and so forth, I kind of wonder if these ditches of any size are nothing more than benjo ditches.
If a bunch of people lived in a place like Durrington Walls, you've got to have a big benjo ditch, maybe additional small ones and a big one to catch the runoff.

She provides a description on the dig and the archaeologists for the project [here]
See also a paper by MP Pearson regarding his view on the connections [here].

Old concept.  SciNews.

See also "Huge ritual monument thought to be buried near Stonehenge doesn't exist admit archaeologists"  Telegraph UK

"New Stonehenge' was made of WOOD:  Vast 4,500-year-old timber circle may have been erected to commemorate the builders of its famous neighbor"  DailyMail

'New Stonehenge' at Durrington Walls 'had no standing stones'  BBC

Monday, August 22, 2016

Ritualized Ball Games in the Neolithic? (or venationes, Michael Bott)

Here's a theory from Micheal Bott suggesting that some of the circular monuments of Atlantic Europe may be sporting monuments where important, possibly even religious, ball games or venationes took place.  Before you dismiss this possibility, listen to his argument and then consider a few examples from other primitive religions below.

Thanks to Charles for linking the short clip below:

Henges: Stonehenge, Woodhenge, Avebury & Stanton Drew from Michael Bott on Vimeo.

Bott suggests that some of the henges could be the structural precursors to a number of ancient venues, using as a loose example the Amphitheatrum Flavium, itself having a recent architectural lineage by way of Classical Greece.  At 4:22 he compares the structure of Stanton Drew with the substructure of the Flavian Amphitheater, suggesting that the close timbers may have been piers for decking. 

It's possible that when large numbers of people converged on a single site like Stonehenge (as a bad example) that the archaeological indication of multi-day feasting could have been a sort of religious sports-orgy, such as those of a number of ancient cultures.  Lacking satisfyingly abundant sacrificial or burial remains, some round monuments are often called calendars or observatories; but that still doesn't tell us procedurally 'what actually happened' when the monuments were being used.  Bott wonders if the 'what actually happened' were blood-sports, such as those of the Roman Era.

Since many of the Atlantic monuments seem to be oriented around the sun [recent article], we might want to consider activities that would be becoming of a proper sun worshiper.  So here I've considered two very different cultures a world away just to give an example of what kind of worship might be pleasing to a solar deity of the Beaker Age.  (not suggesting any relationship with the following)

Woodland Lacrosse "The Warrior's Game" by Robert Griffing [here]
There is lacrosse, a modern North American game with origins in the Eastern Woodland Nations.  A reconstructed view of the stick-and-ball mythology is a battle among primordial beings (either between gods or a contest between animals and ancestral humans) for the sun and moon, the volley representing this struggle of dominance of the two celestial spheres.  Although played for a number of occasions, it is possible that important games were played either in the Winter Solstice or quarterly.  The word "game" is almost a misapplication in that it trivializes a sacramental event that was played with rackets consecrated by a holy man.  [USAlacrosse], (Vennum, 2004)

Another solar game is Meso-American handball, which probably descended from the same ancestor as the Woodland ball games.  The rubber ball comes to represent a living version of the sun in a cosmic battle that took place before the time of men.  The stone scoring ring, as seen below, represents the equinox through which the sun passes.

The ball court itself, the tlachtli, is more than just a sports stadium.  It is a solar portal oriented with the sky that literally transports the players into the cosmological realm.  It is here that the death and re-birth of the sun is re-enacted and the fertility of a nation can be ensured through the sacrifice of players.

Whether lacrosse or ullamaliztili, these were formalized, high-stakes events, not only for the players but for the treaties and wagers made on the game.  In the case of ullamaliztili, the sanctioned games by the Classical Period appear to have ended with the beheading of losing team captain and often, the entire losing team.  Also [here]

"ullamaliztli" - The ball "sun" spiked through the stone ring "the equinox"
There is an extremely rich array of ancient European ball games, combat sports, venationes and competitions.  Many of our seemingly modern sports belong to categories of sports that can be traced fairly well into the Early Bronze Age.   

These European competitions were often religious in nature; and that begs the question:  if we reasonably assume that sport events were one of the most central pillars in the life of a Neolithic European, shouldn't we see some evidence of this in the landscape?  No one is suggesting that this is going to be the case, but if we look at monuments again, could they be?

Michael Bott considers round monuments with embankments.  He wonders if the ditched embankment enclosures were designed for venationes, such as a bull ring, or a rodeo ring.  It's worth considering that European stick-and-ball games typically have round courts or infields as well.  In the English language, boxers fight in a boxing 'ring', even though modern rings are square.  Most European combat sports are now, or were at one time, fought in a circular enclosure.

There are also other unusual structures found in Europe, such as the cursuses and holed-stones
Of course there may be better explanations for some of these, but if we had a number of Neolithic monuments, let's say a thousand, there should be a high logical probability that a certain percentage had events taking place that spectators might actually want to watch!


Here is an interesting bit of information about Stonehenge...  There are now about a hundred and fifty images discovered on the Stonehenge sarsen stones from the second millennium.  What are they?  deer?  stick people?  boats?  cows?

Unless there are images that I've missed, all of them are axes and daggers.

...and they continue to be found.  These are just the ones that haven't faded or remain to be discovered.  What's interesting is how the daggers and axes are sequentially listed on the sarsen stones, much like a tally.

Papi Boyington, American Ace pilot

More on the Roman coliseum   [Link]

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Beaker Smith? Stone Hoard from Netherlands (Drenth, Freudenberg, Williams, 2016)

Drenth, Freudenberg and Williams review a bunch of metal working tools that were buried together in a pit.

A compelling case is made that these are the remnants of smith's tools and were buried within a rectangular style box.   Weirdly, the arrangement of the stones look as if it they were placed in a toolbox!

On page 47 there is a fascinating description of how the tools were placed into the toolbox to protect the work edges and faces.  The reason why the authors have come back to this find is the significance of the arrangement.  There have in various places been found fish hooks, weights and fishing lures; imagine if an archaeologist one day found a complete Late Neolithic tackle box.

Snip of page 43, Musaica archaeologica 1-1, 2016, 37-58. Online. 30.06.2016.
The inventory, quoting from the paper:

  • a non-flint stone axe with a rectangular cross-section or Fels-Rechteckbeil, variety A (width < half of the length) with a rectangular outline as viewed from above ( 3);
  • a hammer-stone with two polished short ends ( 19);
  • three hammer-stones (cat. nos. 6, 7 and 12);
  • two cushion-stones (cat. nos. 1 and 2);
  • two arrow shaft smoothers (cat. nos. 4 and 5);
  • six to seven whetstones (cat. nos. 8, 9, 14, 18, 20, 22 and 23);
  • one or two rubbing stones (cat. nos. 10 and 15).   (Drenth et al, 2016)

Also, from the table below you can see a little more clearly the intelligent selection of certain types of materials for certain purposes.  In a way, this reminds of the diversity of wood materials of Otzi's backpack and personal gear.

Snip from Fig 1 Musaica archaeologica 1-1, 2016, 37-58. Online. 30.06.2016.

Finally, they consider why the box was buried.  It appears that all of the tools are well used but still functional; a number of them are no longer functional or broken.  The authors suspect that the person who buried the tools did not intend to return, given the worn and sometimes broken state.  They suggest the tools were buried respectfully.

I think we are channeled towards the possibility that these were once the tools of a man who was no longer around.  Someone took a box of mostly functional tools and some broken tools, buried it, and never came back.

Drenth, Freudenberg, Williams 

The Belongings of a Bell Beaker smith? A Stone Hoard from Hengelo, Province of Gelderland, the Netherlands (*.pdf)  Erik Drenth - Mechtild Freudenberg - Gavin L. Williams
Musaica archaeologica 1-1, 2016, 37-58. Online. 30.06.2016. [Link]

Abstract: This paper discusses a pit in which 23 stones were discovered during the excavation of a cover sand ridge at Hengelo, province of Gelderland, the Netherlands, in 2007. In all likelihood it concerns the isolated deposition or hoard containing (part of) the belongings of a smith dating to the Bell Beaker period. Amongst the stones are two cushion-stones and a hammer with two polished short ends. They have been interpreted as metal-working tools that served as anvils and percussion instrument respectively. Copper and gold traces, revealed by neuron activation analysis, on the cushion-stones and a whetstone support this theory. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Beaker Box Cremations in Bourgogne, France (Christian, Docreaux, Fossurier, 2016)

This paper describes several box cremation burials.  During the burning of the funeral pyre, it appears the beaker cups were placed.

On top of the burial was built a small timber mausoleum and surrounded by a ring ditch.

F. Gauchet via Musaica archaeologica 1-1, 2016, 21-36

The configurations appear slightly different.  M8 appears to have some similarity to arrangements in Central Europe.
F. Gauchet via Musaica archaeologica 1-1, 2016, 21-36

Cutout of Fig. 1 Musaica archaeologica 1-1, 2016, 21-36

Musaica archaeologica 1-1, 2016, 21-36. Online. 30.06.2016.  [Link]

Abstract: The two cremation burials of Genlis, the Nicolot are outstanding representations of the Bell Beaker period for the East of France and Burgundy region. Very few cremation graves are attested in Western Europe and the Genlis burials can certainly attest to cultural links with Central Europe where this type of funerary practice is better documented. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

First Bell Beaker earthwork enclosure found in Spain (University of Tübingen)

First Bell Beaker earthwork enclosure found in Spain: Archaeologists have discovered an earthwork enclosure in southern Spain dating from the Bell Beaker period of 2,600 to 2,200 BCE. The complex of concentric rings may have been used for holding rituals; such earthwork enclosures have previously only been found in the northern half of Europe.  (Science Daily)

via ScienceDaily

The new enslosure, La Loma del Real Tesoro II is very large and begins and ends with the Bell Beaker Culture, according to the release.   The site is close to Seville, which is the southern part of Spain in the plain of the Guadalquivir, about an hour north of Cadiz.

See also Heritage Daily and the press release from the University of Tübingen.

Image: SFB 1070 RessourcenKulturen, Javier Escudero Carrillo and Elisabet Conlin