MARKS LEFT BY STONEHENGE BUILDERS REVEALED BY YORKSHIRE ARCHAEOLOGISTS
One of the country’s most famous and most studied historic landmarks has undergone the first ever comprehensive digital examination of the surface of its stone, by Yorkshire archaeologists.
Detailed analysis of the first comprehensive laser survey of Stonehenge has been carried out by Sheffield-based ArcHeritage, part of the York Archaeological Trust educational charity.
Archaeologists have developed a brand new technique and undertaken digital analysis for English Heritage at Stonehenge, revealing monumental evidence which changes previous interpretations of the stonework and the site.
Marcus Abbott, ArcHeritage’s Head of Geomatics and Visualisation,says; “The stones have several texture and surface variations which camouflage subtle features that cannot be seen by the naked eye. With digital technology we were able to strip off the texture and apply new surface texture which enhanced the archaeological features.
“Combined with using different ‘virtual’ lighting set ups and angles we could then start to see surface detail on the stones. We created new technology called ‘Luminance Lensing’ and combined it with photogrammetric data which has taken our analysis to a completely different level.”
This study tells us many new things about Stonehenge and its creators. The method tells us how Stonehenge was positioned to create visual impact for people approaching the monument from the north-east via the Avenue. It also provides an indication that the stones located in the centre of the monument might have existed before the outer ring of stones was created.
It has also revealed 72 new prehistoric axe carvings, in addition to the 44 carvings previously known at Stonehenge. This find makes it the largest collection of these prehistoric axe-head carvings found in the UK.
The technique developed by ArcHeritage has major potential to impact on the survey techniques used in the heritage sector. The analysis carried out by ArcHeritage is part of a much wider research project by English Heritage which started in 2007. For more information about ArcHeritage’s involvement and new research technology, please visit www.archeritage.co.uk.
For more information and to arrange interviews, please contact Hannah Trinder or Karen Nixon on 01904 610077 or email email@example.com.
This summer eleven groups of GCSE students from schools in and around York and Harrogate have been taking part in a Cabinet Office’s National Citizenship Scheme designed to help young people work with registered charities in the area in a regional competition judged by a committee chaired by Harrogate MP Andrew Jones. Two groups were based in York with York Archaeological Trust (YAT) and both chose to help develop new audiences for the JORVIK Viking Centre, Barley Hall and other museums.
At a grand presentation at the Royal Hall in Harrogate on 22nd September each group gave presentations showing what they had achieved since taking their GCSE exams. First prize was awarded to the first YAT group and a £750 cheque was presented to the students on behalf of YAT staff member, Anna Stewart.
After a week at an outdoor education centre the young people spent a week getting to know the work done by York’s premier archaeological group and then designed their own project to help raise awareness of York’s heritage. The winning group ran a 1950s themed tea party at York’s Mansion House where they interviewed residents who were children and teenagers in the 1950s. A second group organised a party in Parliament Street where tea and cakes were provided while children and adults were encouraged to take part in simple archaeological activities.
‘It was wonderful to see the young people grow in confidence as the projects were planned and delivered’ said Anna Stewart of YAT.
There are now plans to run the scheme next year and, if funding can be found, start a Young Ambassadors Club for young people aged 16-21.
COULD YORK’S HEADLESS ROMANS BE GLADIATORS?
York Archaeological Trust is throwing down the gauntlet to would-be archaeologists to see if they can solve a puzzle that has sparked debate about human remains unearthed in York almost a decade ago.
Skeleton with displaced skull
During 2004-5 York Archaeological Trust excavated 80 burials in York, in advance of housing developments. The site was part of a large cemetery on the outskirts of the Roman town, across the river from the legionary fortress.
The burials are dated to between the early 2nd century to the late 3rd century, and probably cover most of the period of Roman occupation in northern England (about AD70-410). Almost all are male, and the vast majority are adults – not the usual demographics for a Roman cemetery.
However, despite the evidence for a harsh lifestyle and a violent death, these people had been carefully buried. There was also evidence that funerary feasting had taken place at the cemetery; this often occurred on the anniversary of the death of loved ones.
Were these people gladiators, who were both revered (as superstars) and reviled (as associated with death)? Or were they people who had been executed but given a decent burial? How about soldiers who had died in battle? Or was this evidence of a group of people who had unusual views on religion or burial practises?
A Channel 4 documentary, which will be aired on 14 June, reignites the debate about the skeletons’ origins and follows the lead theory that the remains are those of Roman gladiators. But, as Kurt Hunter Mann, who is leading the research at York Archaeological Trust explains, there is evidence to support other theories, too:
“There are numerous pieces of evidence that point towards or are consistent with the interpretation that the skeletons are Roman gladiators, but there is also other evidence that suggest the individuals could have been soldiers, criminals, or members of a religious cult,” he says.
Kurt Hunter-Mann excavating two skeletons
The Trust will launch a website next week – www.headlessromans.co.uk – presenting all the evidence and inviting members of the public to make up their own minds.
One of the most significant pieces of evidence supporting the ‘gladiator’ conclusion is a large carnivore bite mark – probably inflicted by a lion, tiger or bear, which archaeologists believe may have been sustained in an arena context.
Other evidence includes a high incidence of substantial arm asymmetry – a feature mentioned in ancient Roman literature in connection with a gladiator; some healed and unhealed weapon injuries; possible hammer blows to the head (a feature attested as a probable gladiatorial coup de grâce at another gladiator cemetery at Ephesus in Turkey).
“An alternative interpretation – that the individuals are soldiers – is potentially undermined by the fact that most of them have been violently decapitated and that one of them has a large carnivore bite mark, almost certainly sustained in an arena context,” says Mr Hunter-Mann.
Above: skeleton with misplaced skull and heavy lead leg-shackles
“Another potential interpretation – that they are all criminals – appears to be undermined by the substantial respect (and grave goods) with which many of them were buried.”
“This is a fascinating discovery that gives a real insight into the world of interpreting archaeology,” says York Archaeological Trust Chief Executive, John Walker.
“With archaeology, you are very rarely dealing in the definite. There are almost always elements of ‘possibly’ and ‘probably’ and the archaeologist’s job is to weigh up the evidence and make an informed judgement on the most likely explanation.”
For your chance to look at the evidence and make your own decision, visit www.headlessromans.co.uk.
Excavations at Heslington to the east of York have unearthed an extensive prehistoric farming landscape. A skull discovered on the site was found to contain intact brain tissue – the oldest surviving human brain found in Britain, dating to the 6th century BC. The skull is now being studied by a team of specialists to determine how it survived and glean any information about life and death in Iron Age York. More details in Yorkshire Archaeology Today issues 16, 17
The Hungate site has recently uncovered the remains of a timber-lined sunken building similar to those found at the nearby Coppergate site excavated in the late 1970s. Timbers from the Hungate building have been dated by dendrochronology to the late 960s AD. Full article will appear in the next issue of Yorkshire Archaeology Today.
The seal of
Researchers from York Archaeological Trust have identified
a remarkable object which shows that around AD 1300 York
was at the forefront of science and engineering. The Trust
undertook excavations before developers George Houlton and
Sons transformed the former York College for Girls in Low
Petergate into an award-winning series of luxury apartments,
retail units and a restaurant. In contrast, the Trust's
archaeologists revealed that in the medieval period the
site contained a series of metalworkers'
workshops. One of the objects they recovered was a small
circular copper-alloy disc. Expert cleaning in YAT's Archaeological
Conservation Laboratory has now revealed that one face carries
an inscription around its edge, and that the object is therefore
a seal matrix that could be impressed into wax to seal documents.
It probably dates to around AD 1300. Part of the inscription, in
abbreviated Latin, can be read as SIGILLUM ROBERTI HOROLOGIARII
DE IERM, and this translates as 'The seal of Robert the
clockmaker from ?Yarmouth'.
Clocks were first made in England only a very few years
before this seal may have been lost. An itinerant horologiarius
is mentioned in the account books of Beaulieu Cistercian
Abbey, Hampshire, in 1269-70, and there are records of a
clock made by the Augustinian Canons of Dunstable Priory,
Bedfordshire, in 1283. In the following few years there
are records of other clocks at major English churches
Exeter Cathedral in 1284, St Paul's London in 1286, Merton
College Oxford and Norwich Cathedral before 1290, Ely Abbey
1291, Canterbury Cathedral 1292, and Salisbury Cathedral
before 1306. York has hitherto been missing from this list,
but now it seems possible that Robert the clockmaker may
have been engaged upon works in York c.1300. The most likely
venue for his skills must be York Minster, although the
first references to a clock there do not appear in the surviving
documents until much later.