Evolution: Neolithic Farmers

Around 4,000 BC, first signs of economic and cultural developments, as associated with the Neolithic or New Stone Age was taking place.  Their route was from Africa and Asia Minor along the waterways of the Mediterranean and Danube into Europe.

First signs were taking place, as Europeans began cultivating crops and domesticating goats, sheep and cattle.

More permanent settlements, replaced the hunter-gatherer camps we were so used to.  With more permanent settlements came rectangular log houses, circular thatched huts on wooden platforms.  Stone axed heads were shaped and fitted with wooden handles.

Neolithic farmers were known for the earliest creation of pottery.

By 3500 the custom of creation of stone structures used for funerals had extended across Western Europe; tombs.

Britain’s Stonehenge dated back to 2,000 BC and is believed to be linked with such practices.

The Shifting Stones of Stonehenge ~ Steve Tanham — Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo

Not to be outdone by the recent discoveries on Orkney, Stonehenge – one of the world’s most famous stone circles – has thrown up a whole new story about its origins… and its original face. (1100 words, a ten-minute read) (Above: Stonehenge – source Pixabay) It was the end of the archeology ‘dig season’. Strong […]

The Shifting Stones of Stonehenge ~ Steve Tanham — Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo

Stonehenge in brief

Originally constructed on the site, known to-day as Stonehenge, were a number of pits, which supported wooden totem-pole posts, erected between 8,500-7,000 BC.

Around 3,100 BC, a large Henge was constructed, comprising of a ditch, bank and fifty-six Aubrey holes (round pits cut into the chalk, with flat bottoms).  They formed a circle some 284 feet in diameter.

Excavations at the site, have discovered human bones, but opinions believe these holes were not graves, but part of a religious ceremony.  Saying that some sixty plus cremations have been discovered in the area. 

Stonehenge was abandoned for some hundred years.  Then life returned around 2,150 BC with the arrival of eighty-two bluestones from the Preseli Mountains in South Wales.  These stones once erected created an unfinished double-circled circle.  At the same time the original entrance was widened, to make way for a pair of Heel Stones, plus other stones being set up in the centre of the monument.

Around 2,000 BC Sarsen stones were brought from Marlborough Downs.  These were arranged to create an outer circle with lintels.  Inside the circle, five trilithons were placed in a horseshoe arrangement.

In 1,500 BC the bluestones were rearranged in a horseshoe and circle arrangement, consisting of some sixty stones.  An earthwork Avenue was built, which connected Stonehenge with the River Avon.

In 1800-1500 BC, some digging took place around the stones of two concentric ring pits… the reason for these pits is unknown.

With Stonehenge built, and history ever changing, groups of barrows have been located on hilltops, which are visible from Stonehenge.  Could it be a connection to Stonehenge for the dead?

Four Sarsen stones have been adorned with carvings of early historical weapons; axe-heads, daggers and axes.  Was it a status of power to those visiting Stonehenge, or a connection to the graves on the nearby hillsides?

Avebury Henge

Avebury Henge monument consists of three stone circles, located around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire.  It was erected in 2,600 BC, comprising of one large outer circle, with two smaller stone circles situated inside.  Along with a large circular bank with an internal ditch measuring some 460 yards in diameter.

What is its purpose, a question that has baffled archaeologists for years, but they believe it was more than likely used for some form of rituals or ceremonies.

By the time of the Iron Age, it had been abandoned, yet human evidence existed into the time of the Roman occupation, showing that the Roman’s had used the site.

The outer stone circle of the henge, measures 1,088 feet in diameter, originally constructed with ninety-eight Sarsen stones.  With two large polished stones at the southern entrance.

The northern inner ring stone circle, measures 322 feet in diameter, with a cove of three stones in the middle, with a north-east facing entrance, but when erected probably consisted of twenty-seven stones.

The southern inner ring stone circle, measures 354 feet in diameter, with a single stone some 21 feet in height located centrally, along with an alignment of twenty-nine smaller stones.

Around the central point of the obelisk, small yet rough sarsen stones were positioned in a near rectangular format.  The obelisk stone has long since disappeared.

The Avenue:

The West Kennet Avenue of paired stones leads from the south-eastern henge entrance to Beckhampton Avenue to the western entrance.  Which linked the Avebury Henge with ceremonial sites at Beckhampton and Overton Hill.

The henge, with its imposing boundary to the circle, has no defence purpose, because the ditch and bank are located inside the larger circle.

Being a henge, one has to accept that the positioning of the stone circle are related to astronomical alignments.  The site is more than likely laid out for some form of religious function.

The Druids believe that there was an astronomical axis which connected Avebury Henge to Stonehenge, flanked by West Kennet Long Barrow on the west which symbolised the Mother Goddess and Silbury Hill the symbol of masculinity.

In the 5th century following on from the end of Roman Rule, Anglo-Saxons migrated to Southern Britain, where suggestions have been put forward that they used the site as a defensive site.

During the middle ages, many of the stones were buried or destroyed, as it was believed they had a connection to pagan and devil worshipping.

In the early part of Saxon life in Britain, around AD600, a settlement had been built at the henge; a seme-fortified settlement.

King Athelstan recorded a charter in 939 defining the boundaries of Overton, a parish which laid adjacent to Avebury.

In the 11th century Anglo-Saxon armies fought with Viking raiders at Avebury, and the pre-historic monument at Silbury Hill was fortified creating a defensive position.

In 1114 a Benedictine Priory and Church was built upon the site.

In the latter part of the 12th century, Avebury parish church was enlarged at a time of religious revival.

The Avebury stones, which stood tall for all to see along with nearby barrows were given names relating to the devil, before being toppled:  The Devil’s Chair, The Devil’s Den and The Devil’s Brandirons.

Shortly afterwards the “Black Death Plague” struck the village in 1349, reducing the village’s population, as many died.

In 1541 John Leland; Librarian and Chaplan to King Henry VIII, noted the existence of Avebury and its pre-historic monuments.  William Camden published his guide book to British Antiquities in 1586, but made no mention of Avebury, but his 1610 version made a fleeting remark to it.

John Aubrey Antiquarian rediscovered the Avbrey Henge in 1649, and recorded many drawings of the site.  In 1663, King Charles II visited Avebury Henge.

In the early part of the 18th century, William Stukeley doctor-clergyman and antiquarian studied Avebury Henge between 1719-1724.

The village was growing, and stone was much needed for the houses and the church.  He left a drawing for them to follow, how to break these large boulder stones, formerly part of Avebury Henge Pre-historic Monument.  Burn straw in a large pit to heat the stones, pour cold water on the stones, creating a weakness then split them open with a sledge hammer.

The Avebury Henge became listed as a pre-historic and sacred complex with ceremonial avenues lined with stones.  Silbury Hill the largest known man-made mound, the West Kennet Long Barrow a Neolithic burial chamber. A former stone circle Sanctuary.

Druidic rites held at Avebury are called Gorseddau, where they invoke Awen (a druidic concept of inspiration).  They recite the Druid Prayer by Morganwg and the Druid Vow.

One group of Druids (Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri) hold their rites at Avebury’s pre-historic monument.

Grimes Graves Flint Mines

Grime’s Graves is a flint mining complex located near Brandon, between the borders of Norfolk and Suffolk.  The mine was worked between 3,000 and 1,900 BC, and consists of 433 shafts dug into the chalk to access the flint, across ninety-six acres.

Flint was used in the making of stone axes, during the Neolithic period, and was later replaced by iron.  Fortunately, the use of flint had other uses, starting fires and centuries later as strikers for muskets.

One of the tools used in the excavation of flint, would be a “Deer Antler Pick” fashioned from a red deer.

These miners dug shafts some forty feet in depth, searching out the better quality flint in the subterranean galleries, which radiated outwards from the base of the shaft.

Much flint could be found close to the surface, but they opted to dig deep for the smooth black stone, better known as floor-stone.

These floor-stones were used in the construction of axes for warriors, but they were never used in battle, but buried with them.  These floor-stones were of ceremonial use.

Interesting finds have been discovered in many of these pits, leading us to suggest ritual ceremonies took place: Chalk platforms shaped to resemble that of an altar, arrangements of pottery and antler picks, close by.

Once the mines had been abandoned, possibly at the time when iron had been introduced to Britain.  The floors showed evidence of fires, being used in some form of purification ceremony.

An axe made from Cornish greenstone, had been discovered, carefully laid on a gallery floor beside two antler picks, both laying parallel and facing inwards, with the skull of a Phalarope (shorebird).

This is possibly laid out in such a way as a ritual purpose, was it about the mine or the bird, we will never know!

As the mines were backfilled, a time when flint mines had been exhausted, human and animal finds have been discovered.

Prehistoric quernstone is latest evidence of Neolithic settlement site on outskirts of Kirkwall — Archaeology Orkney

A huge prehistoric quernstone is the latest evidence of an Early Neolithic settlement on the outskirts of Kirkwall, Orkney.

Prehistoric quernstone is latest evidence of Neolithic settlement site on outskirts of Kirkwall — Archaeology Orkney

Neolithic Scotland: Skara Brae

Located on the Bay of Skaill, in the Orkney’s, Northern Scotland, can be found “Skara Brae” a Neolithic settlement.

Humans changed their way of life during the Neolithic Times, from hunters and gatherers with no fixed abode, to the farming and raising of animals.  The changes took place over many hundreds of years.  They found they could control their food sources, by the planting of seeds and cultivation of crops.  They domesticated animals, which provided them with varied sources of meat; cattle, sheep and pigs.

The site date backs some 5,200 years based on archaeological excavations.  There are ten single room houses, each measuring  thirty-six square metres with no windows, and heated by fire.  The roofs are all but gone, and we have to assume the roof was constructed from turf or timbers with chimney for ventilation.  The village had constructed its own drainage system, with toilets located within each house.

The buildings were constructed from flagstones, layered into the earth, amongst midden, giving greater support.  Space between walls and earth was filled with midden (rubbish) creating natural insulation.

Each dwelling contained cupboards, beds, seats and storage boxes constructed out of stone.  These people knew how to work stone, even down to their furnishings.

Located at the front of each bed, remain stumps of stone pillars, possibly supporting a canopy of fur, associated with Hebridean life-style.

Builders of Skara Brae, were probably self-sufficient as much as possible.  Bones discovered at the site, shows their stable diet would have consisted of cattle and sheep plus barley and wheat locally grown.  Great quantities of fish bones and shells shows they complimented their food with fish.

Red deer and boar would have been hunted, eggs from seabirds and even birds would have been on the menu.

The inhabitants made grooved ware pottery, which was bowls, vases, pots and containers with flat bottoms and straight sides, decorated with grooves.  This earn’t its inhabitants to be known as the Grooved Ware People of Skara Brae.  They also crafted jewellery, tools and gaming dice.

“Skara Brae” lost for thousands of years, reared its head in the 19th century.

Western Scotland was battered by heavy storms in 1850, and much sand from the beaches was blown away, revealing parts of a few structures.  Landowner; William Watt, saw these exposed sections of walls, and excavated four houses.  George Petrie started his excavations, and presented his findings to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in April of 1867.

Work on the site came to a halt, and remained untouched until 1913, when the site was plundered for artefacts.  In 1924 storm damage, led to part of a housed being washed away.

Radio-Carbon tests undertaken in 1972-73 confirmed without any doubt, that Skara Brae was occupied between 3180BC – 2500BC, when weather conditions became cold and wet, and the site was abandoned.

Red ochre found at Skara Brae, proves that body painting was taking place.  Artefacts including knives, pins and beads were made from fish, bird and whalebones.

The Neolithic settlement of “Skara Brae” received World Heritage status in December 1999.

These Neolithic people built long barrows as tombs for their ancestors.  They are remembered for the construction of ritual monuments, henges and stone circles; Stonehenge and Avebury Henge, there are many more examples scattered across our lands.