Sunday, 13 September 2015

Stonehenge II to the rescue

Stonehenge 1 (photo: P. Mills)

In archaeology we do not have Ant and Dec, but we do have our favourite Geordies, the Gaffney brothers, Vince and Chris. Both professors are now back at Bradford – and how successful their reunion has been! Recently, the Doggerland has been again in the news. Then, we got the sensational news from Stonehenge – Stonehenge II and its invisible stone lines underground.

Ant and... I mean Vince and Chris Gaffney (photo: ChronicleLive)

The University of Bradford is famous for its geophysics. The late Arnold Aspinall was a true pioneer of the archaeological geophysics equipment and use and the Gaffneys were his pupils. Alongside pottery distributions and geophysics, Vince is also one of the pioneers of GIS research and his book with Stancic on the island of Hvar is still essential reading, even if hardware and software have seriously moved on. He was also involved in the study of Forum Novum as part of the Tiber Valley Project of the British School at Rome where GPR was used extensively to find an amphitheatre, for example. Chris is a true geophysics specialist, as his long-term involvement with Time Team shows. Chris recently visited Finland and I heard only lovely things from my colleagues about his demonstrations during fieldwork at different important sites.

The reconstruction of Stonehenge II (Ludvig Boltzmann Institute)

In my New Year’s blog I was assessing last year’s archaeological finds and instead of emphasising the importance of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape project, I wanted to lift up the monitoring of the heritage in Syria. I still stand behind that personal evaluation, partly that sentence ‘they basically found a couple of pits – I am unimpressed’ blurted by one of my colleagues still ringing in my ears. Well, now the international collaborative project has found seriously more than a couple of pits. A whole curved line of stones, 30 intact, hidden below the surface using ground-penetrating radar. Some of these were up to 4.5m high. There were signs of 60 more originally standing stones, either fragments of them or the anomalies related to their wide foundation pits. The monument seems to have been demolished and redeveloped when the Durrington Walls 40-metre-wide superhenge was erected by the Neolithic builders. This hints to religious changes during the Neolithic period and continuous change in the Stonehenge landscape.

HOOOH comparison (images: the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape partners and HOOOH)

The announcement and the press release happened at the eve of the British Science festival in Bradford. It was ‘archaeology on steroids’ as suggested by Vince. One of the immediate reactions was Tom Holland’s tweet suggesting how foolish the tunnel option for the A303 will be in light of this new find. More importantly, the HOOOH, while trying to save the Old Oswestry Iron Age Hillfort landscape being cannibalised by development piece by piece, was watching, reading and reacting. The RESCUE had already pointed out in their scathing statement that the council had not carried out an archaeological evaluation – and in the light of this new find this seems a foolish disregard. Now the HOOOH has published a statement in Facebook where it declares just this lack in knowledge and reminds of the impressive group of scholars and backers who value greatly the whole landscape, ranging from Lord Renfrew to Professors Richard Bradley and Colin Haselgrove.

It is also interesting to note how the ‘business men’ behind these developments and councils forget the importance of tourism as one economic factor when discussing these monuments. Nobody will want to see the 117 houses planned, the visitors come to see Old Oswestry – and Stonehenge I and II – in its setting.

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