Tag Archives: discovery

New Stonehenge discovery: how we found a prehistoric monument hidden in data



Archaeologists studying the monument site from above ground.
University of Bradford

Vince Gaffney, University of Bradford and Chris Gaffney, University of Bradford

The chances of finding another major archaeological monument near Stonehenge today are probably very small given the generations of work that has gone into studying the site. Stumbling across such a monument that measured more than 2km across must be highly unlikely. And yet that is exactly what our team from the Anglo-Austrian “Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes” research project has done.

We discovered a circle of pits, each ten metres or more in diameter and at least five metres deep, around Stonehenge’s largest prehistoric neighbour, the so-called super henge at Durrington Walls. More amazingly, the initial evidence for this discovery was hidden away in terabytes of remote sensing data and reams of unpublished literature generated by archaeologists over the years.

Durrington is one of Britain’s largest neolithic monuments. Comprising banks and ditches measuring 500 metres across, the henge was constructed over 4,500 years ago by early farmers, around the time that Stonehenge achieved it’s final, distinctive form. The site itself overlies what may have been one of north west Europe’s largest neolithic villages. Researchers suggest that the communities that built Stonehenge lived here.

The major archaeological monuments in the Stonehenge Landscape, outlined in green.
Vincent Gaffney, Author provided

Over the last decade, there has been a quiet revolution in the landscape around Stonehenge as archaeologists have gained access to enhanced remote sensing technologies. Around 18 sq km of landscape around Stonehenge has now been surveyed through geophysics. Now archaeologists are joining the dots within these enormous data set, and making associations they might not have done otherwise.

The first geophysical anomalies related to our new discovery were recorded (but not published) some years ago when a small number of peculiar circular splodges in the magnetometry data south of Durrington. These were initially interpreted as shallower features, possibly dew ponds, unlinked to the henge. But our research group realised that similar features had been recorded far to the north of the henge by archaeological contractors, interpreted as natural sink holes caused by solution of the chalk bedrock.




Read more:
How technology, not spades, revealed what lies beneath Stonehenge


Our mapping work suggested all these features were actually linked and part of a single, massive circuit surrounding the henge monument at Durrington. Detailed study, including drilling for underground samples, revealed the anomalies as massive pits, with near vertical sides, containing worked flint and bone. Radiocarbon dating suggested the features were from the same time as the henge.

Shafts and pits are known in prehistoric British archaeology, but the sheer number of massive pits and the scale of the Durrington circuit is unparalleled in the UK. The internal area of the ring is likely to be at least around three sq km. This arrangement of pits certainly gives the impression they bound an important space, and here there may be a comparison to be made with Stonehenge itself.

Stonehenge actually has a territory sometimes called the “Stonehenge Envelope”. This is marked by lines of later burial mounds clustering around the monument, covering an area similar to that of Durrington Walls. The space is marked so clearly that archaeologists have suggested only a special few people may have been allowed to enter the area.

This association of Stonehenge with death and burial has also led to interpretations that it was reserved for ancestors. Durrington, in contrast, is believed to be associated with the living. But our discovery of the pits suggest that Durrington did have a similar special outer area, as large as that associated with Stonehenge.

The pit circle also provide insights into the mindset of the people who built these massive structures. The pits appear to be laid out to include a much earlier monument: the Larkhill causewayed enclosure.

The pits form a circle around Durrington Walls in line with the Larkhill causewayed enclosure.
Vincent Gaffney, Author provided

Built more than 1,000 years before the Durrington Walls henge, such ditched enclosures were the first large communal constructions in Britain and they were clearly important to early farming communities. The decision to appropriate this earlier monument into the circuit of the henge must have been a deliberate, symbolic statement.

In fact, the pits appear to have been laid out in a notional circle so that they were all the same walking distance from the henge as the causewayed enclosure. Given the scale involved and the shape of the landscape, which includes several valleys, this would have been difficult to achieve without the existence of a tally or counting system. This is the first evidence that such a system may have been used by neolithic people to lay out what must be considered a sacred geometry, at the scale suggested by the Durrington pits.

The unexpected discovery of a unique set of massive pits within the Stonehenge landscape may also have implications in terms of the site’s management. There are similar individual features scattered throughout the landscape that are unexplored but may be of equal significance. Yet a proposed road (the A303) development includes a road tunnel that will pass close to the iconic site of Stonehenge itself and impact a large corridor of land directly associated with the site.

The issue of value is complex when we’re discussing a period of history in which the digging of pits clearly had a multitude of social values. We would do well to consider the implication of such discoveries before a tragic loss ensues. Future generations are unlikely to forgive us if we damage this unique landscape.The Conversation

Vince Gaffney, Anniversary Chair in Landscape Archaeology, University of Bradford and Chris Gaffney, Senior Lecturer in Archaeological Geophysics, University of Bradford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Explorer, navigator, coloniser: revisit Captain Cook’s legacy with the click of a mouse


Justin Bergman, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, The Conversation

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today.

Click through below to explore Cook’s journey through the Pacific, his interactions with Indigenous peoples and how that journey led to Australia becoming a penal colony 18 years later.

You can see other stories in the series here.


Click through to explore the interactive.The Conversation

Justin Bergman, Deputy Editor: Politics + Society, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, Multimedia Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


‘They are all dead’: for Indigenous people, Cook’s voyage of ‘discovery’ was a ghostly visitation


Alison Page, University of Technology Sydney

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.


On a recent trip to Cape York, I was privileged to sit with Kaurareg/Gudang Yadhaykenu man Uncle Tommy Savage, on a beach in the town of Umagico.

We listened as he sang a song called Markai an Ghule (meaning “ghost ship”), composed by his ancestors when James Cook arrived at Possession Island in August 1770.

A new series from The Conversation.

A sad lilt permeated the song, an expression of the grief the Kaurareg people felt at having to hide their cultural system, while they determined what the arrival of this preternatural being and his big ship was all about.

We recorded Uncle Tommy’s song for inclusion in The Message, a film commissioned by the National Museum of Australia and opening in April to coincide with 250 years since Cook arrived.

While researching the film, I spent much of last year travelling Australia’s east coast interviewing historians, curators and traditional owners, piecing together stories from the ship and the shore. Here are the stories that have stuck with me.

A voyage of the dead

What is so often described as Cook’s “voyage of discovery” has been viewed consistently by Indigenous people as a voyage of the dead; a giant canoe carrying the reincarnation of ancestral beings.

At the first encounter in Botany Bay, two Gweagal warriors throw stones and spears to Cook, saying “warrawarrawa,” meaning “they are all dead” (not “go away”, as it is often translated).

Perhaps this explains why Banks and Cook write of Aboriginal people persistently declining any of the gifts they were offered. You would have to be crazy to take gifts from the dead!

The warnings about these ghostly visitors were quickly and accurately sent by fire, smoke and message stick up the coast, adding a deeper meaning to the many fires Banks and Cook noted as they travelled north (“Saw several smooks along shore before dark and two or three times afire in the night,” Cook writes).

A collision of beliefs

When the Endeavour smashes into the reef in Cooktown and is forced to stay for 48 days on the river for repairs, Cook and his crew captured “eight or nine” turtles (tellingly, Banks refers repeatedly to “our turtles”).

A contingent of local Guugu Yimithirr men board HMS Endeavour and try to take at least one turtle back, but Cook’s men soon wrest it away – refusing to share or acknowledge the possibility they’d taken too many.

Lamenting this environmental loss, a group of warriors light the grass fires in protest (“I had little Idea of the fury with which the grass burnt in this hot climate, nor of the dificulty of extinguishing it when once lighted”, Banks writes) and Cook shoots one of the Guugu Yimithirr men.

The rising tension is then released by an older man who stands forward in an extraordinary act of governance and breaks the tip off a spear to signify “weapons down”.

‘… in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans’

The incident brought together threads still relevant in Indigenous-settler relations today: environmental care, reconciliation and cultural governance. And this collision of beliefs, it seems, was not lost on Cook.

As he sailed off from the tip of Cape York, Cook wrote an unusual diary entry:

From what I have said of the Natives of New-Holland, they may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon Earth, but in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans; being wholy unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary conveniencies so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing the use of them.

They live in a Tranquillity which is not disturb’d by the Inequality of Condition: The Earth and sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life; they covet not Magnificent Houses, Houshold-stuff […]

[…] they live in a warm and fine Climate and enjoy a very wholsome Air, so that they have very little need of Clothing and this they seem to be fully sencible of, for many to whome we gave Cloth to, left it carlessly upon the Sea beach and in the woods as a thing they had no manner of use for.

In short they seem’d to set no Value upon any thing we gave them, nor would they ever part with any thing of their own for any one article we could offer them; this, in my opinion argues that they think themselves provided with all the necessarys of Life and that they have no Superfluities —

For a working class man from Georgian England to see and appreciate the cultural values of Indigenous people is remarkable, considering that clarity of understanding is only just dawning on the average Australian.

The role of Joseph Banks

After all the conversations I’ve had over the last year with historians, traditional owners and curators, I’ve come to believe that history has been unkind to Cook. He is blamed for the many wrongs inflicted on my people.

Joseph Banks, however, emerges as a much colder, unkinder figure. It was Banks who convinced the British government that Australia would be perfect for a penal colony, given it could no longer send convicts to America.

Banks’s view that Australia was “thinly inhabited” (and he speaks frequently of savagery and simplicity of its people) fed directly into the declaration of terra nullius. Banks never went inland, but declared with great hubris that it was almost certainly “totally uninhabited”.

In the end, the decisions made in the 18 years between Cook leaving and the First Fleet arriving have shaped modern Australia far more than those early fleeting ethereal encounters.

There are so many lost chapters in the story of Australia.

But as a nation, we can invite Uncle Tommy and his people – and all those other excluded songs and stories – to come out of hiding.

Revealing our shared history is the only way to make peace with those ghostly visitors of the past. But we will only find that peace in the truth and it’s the truth of our history, which will be our new voyage of discovery.


Alison Page was commissioned by the National Museum of Australia to create the film The Message for the museum’s Endeavour 250 exhibition, opening on April 8.The Conversation

Alison Page, Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Captain Cook ‘discovered’ Australia, and other myths from old school text books



A picture titled ‘Captain Cook taking possession of the Australian continent on behalf of the British crown, AD 1770’. Drawn and engraved by Samuel Calvert from an historical painting by Gilfillan in the possession of the Royal Society of Victoria.
Trove/National Library of Australia

Louise Zarmati, University of Tasmania

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here, and an interactive here.


Approaching the 250th anniversary of Cook’s first journey to the Pacific, The Conversation asked readers what they remembered learning at school about his arrival in Australia.

Most people said they learnt Cook “discovered” Australia – especially if they were at school before the 1990s.


Screenshot from Facebook.com

Depending on when you went to school, you may have learnt differently about Captain Cook’s role in Australian history. To find out how the teaching of Cook in Australian schools has changed, I examined textbooks used in the 1950s until today.


Screenshot from Facebook.com

School years 1950s and early 1960s

Conquering the Continent, 1961.
Author provided

If you were at school after the second world war to the mid-1960s, Australia still had strong links to the British Empire.

Cook was portrayed as a one of the greatest explorers in history and textbooks presented clear messages Cook “discovered” Australia and “took possession” of the land for England.

The 1959 Queensland text Social Studies for Standard VIII (Queensland) by G.T Roscoe said Cook “landed on Possession Island, hoisted the Union Jack, claiming the country for the King of England”.

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In Conquering the Continent (1961), C.H. Wright mentions some contact with Indigenous people at Botany Bay, but there is no mention of conflict. Wright writes

The blacks offered little resistance; they quickly stood off after being frightened by gun shots.

C.H. Wright, 1961. Conquering the Continent: The story of the Exploration and settlement of Australia.
Author provided

School years 1965 to 1979


Birth of a Nation, 1974., Author provided

If you went to school between 1965 and 1979, you were learning during the era of the Whitlam, Fraser and Hawke governments.

This was when awareness was beginning to grow of the negative impact of colonisation on Australia’s Indigenous people.

E.S. Elphick’s 1974 Birth of a Nation continued the “discovery and possession” narrative, but acknowledged Indigenous people were in Australia beforehand:

The first Australians came here at least 30,000 years ago, and for all but the last 200 years of this period enjoyed uninterrupted possession of the land they came to[…] The white man, in fact, took a very long time to arrive.

Paul Ashton’s chapter in David Stewart’s Investigating Australian History Using Evidence (1985) encouraged students to “work as historians” by examining primary sources (in this case old maps) and evaluating interpretations of history.

Ashton emphasised the importance of the scientific “discovery”:

Cook’s achievements were indeed great, as were his talents as a navigator. At last, a reasonably accurate chart of the east coast of Australia could be added to European knowledge of the continent, along with a mass of natural and scientific discoveries. However, the discovery was not as yet completed […]

School in 1981 to 1995

If you went to school in the 1980s and early to mid ‘90s, you may have learnt history from a more inclusive perspective that included the lived experiences of those who were largely left out of the traditional narrative, such as children, women and Indigenous people.




Read more:
‘I spoke about Dreamtime, I ticked a box’: teachers say they lack confidence to teach Indigenous perspectives


But in Australia: All Our Yesterdays (1999), author Meg Grey Blanden presented a benign account of Cook facing no resistance from Indigenous people:

On a small island now named Possession Island, Cook performed the last and most important official task of his entire voyage. Like others of his time, Cook was undeterred by the presence of native people on the island. He noted that they obligingly departed and left the Europeans to get on with their ceremony.

School in 1996 to 2015

In the first decade of the 21st century, history was embedded into social studies in all states and territories, except New South Wales. Australian colonial history focused on “discovery”, foundation and expansion was relegated to years four to six.

Some teachers may have chosen to use critical inquiry to teach about Cook’s expedition in year nine. Most tended to focus on the more complicated 20th century history of world wars and progress in year nine and ten syllabuses.


Screenshot from Facebook.com

The Australian Curriculum, which was implemented in all schools from 2012, has maintained this chronological divide of historical knowledge. In year four, students learn about Cook by “examining the journey of one or more explorers of the Australian coastline … using navigation maps to reconstruct their journeys”.

It would be unusual for secondary teachers these days to teach their students about Cook because the topic is not in the secondary curriculum.

This means if children do not learn about Cook’s achievements in the primary years it’s quite possible if they were asked what they learnt about Cook in school, they may not know anything about him.The Conversation

Louise Zarmati, Lecturer in Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Education, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Cooking the books: how re-enactments of the Endeavour’s voyage perpetuate myths of Australia’s ‘discovery’



Kath Walker (Oodgeroo Noonuccal) with Doug Nicholls on Frenchman’s Beach, La Perouse, on April 29 1970. During the Cook bicentenary protest, activists declared a day of mourning for Aboriginal nations.
Image from the Tribune collection from the 1970 Cook Bi-centenary protest, to be featured in the State Library of NSW’s upcoming exhibition ‘Eight Days in Gamay.’

Kate Darian-Smith, University of Tasmania and Katrina Schlunke, University of Tasmania

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains names and images of deceased people.


Prime Minister Scott Morrison stumbled on the word “re-enactment” when outlining his government’s (now suspended) plans for commemorating the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s mythologised “discovery” of Australia.

Certainly, the planned route of the replica HMB Endeavour with 39 stops (and funded at A$6.7 million) could not be described as such: Cook never circumnavigated mainland Australia nor visited Tasmania on the Endeavour.

Morrison quickly clarified that the only gesture of historical accuracy would be a “retracing” of Cook’s voyage up the eastern seaboard.

Historical re-enactments of Cook’s landing are not new to settler Australia. They have focused on Cook’s landfall at Botany Bay, south of Sydney, where the Endeavour’s crew first stepped onto the continent on April 29 1770.

His journal recorded they were greeted by two Dharawal men “who seem’d resolved to oppose our landing”. Cook fired his musket at the men three times, including aiming directly, forcing their retreat.

Cook’s active role in British hostility to Aboriginal peoples was erased from subsequent performances of the Botany Bay landing.

These have also been embellished with Cook claiming the east coast of Australia — this actually occurred some months later at Possession Island in the Torres Strait.

Such popular “re-enactments” of national “foundation moments” have elements of fantasy, compressing time and history into palatable narratives for mainstream Australia.

The history of Cook re-enactments

Cook’s arrival was commemorated as early as 1822, when Sydney’s Philosophical Society erected a plaque at Kurnell, on the headland of Botany Bay. By 1864, the Australian Patriotic Association had located the “exact” site a kilometre away.

Following the 1870 centenary of Cook’s landfall, annual pro-British “celebrations” at Botany Bay involved the presence of the governor, flag-raising, gun salutes, and military displays.

In a society eager to erase its convict stain, Cook was a more acceptable founder than Governor Arthur Phillip, who had established the penal colony in Sydney Cove in 1788.

Considerable confusion existed then – and continues today — about the historical roles of Cook and Phillip. Even during the 1888 Centennial of the First Fleet, the largest triumphal arch in Sydney was adorned with Cook’s image and a model of the Endeavour.

The inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia in January 1901 provided the impetus for a major re-enactment at Kurnell, headlined as the “Second Coming of Cook”. The spectacle attracted a crowd of over 5,000, with 1,000 enjoying a champagne luncheon in an enormous marquee.

Monument of Captain Cook in Kurnell, Sydney.
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences

The re-enactment began with the arrival of the Endeavour, represented by local fishing vessel “Fanny Fisher”. Once ashore, Cook and his sailors and marines encountered 25 Aboriginal men armed with spears and decorated with feathers and ochre. A gun was fired overhead, then Cook ordered a sailor to shoot at the Aborigines before making his imperial claim on the continent. Cook, Joseph Banks and a nymph symbolising Australia gave speeches on the “greatness” and unity of the Britannia of the Southern Ocean.

Although an Aboriginal community lived at La Perouse on the opposite shore of Botany Bay, the re-enactment involved a troupe of Indigenous men from Queensland. They were directed by parliamentarian and entrepreneur Archibald Meston, who had previously toured Indigenous performers in his “Wild Australia” show.

It is unknown under what circumstances the Aboriginal men were recruited for the Federation re-enactment, or if they were paid.

Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770, by E. Phillips Fox (1902)
National Gallery of Victoria

Despite dramatising a beach-side skirmish between the Aborigines and British, the Federation performance cemented Cook as the conquering peacemaker. This was promoted by E. Phillips Fox, who was commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria to paint The Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770 (1902).

This monumental work is a tableau – or frozen re-enactment — of Cook striding purposefully up the beach, stretching out his hand as he takes territorial possession. It was widely reproduced and circulated, becoming the best-known and influential image of Cook’s landing across Australia.




Read more:
An honest reckoning with Captain Cook’s legacy won’t heal things overnight. But it’s a start


The evolution of performances

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the anniversary of the Endeavour’s arrival at Botany Bay was marked by performative gestures to the past. Dignitaries arrived by steamship, coming ashore to give speeches situating Cook as founder of the nation.

For instance, in 1930 at the height of the Depression, spectators were exhorted to “practice self-denial and self-reliance as exemplified in Captain Cook’s exploits”.

Although a full-scale re-enactment was staged in 1951 for the Federation jubilee, interest in Cook waned and the formalities were abandoned.

This changed dramatically in 1970, with the bicentenary of Cook’s Australian landing. Cook was suddenly everywhere, with government funding supporting pageants, memorials and other Cook novelties around the nation.

The nationalistic climax of months of events was an elaborate re-enactment at Kurnell, performed for the visiting Queen Elizabeth and her entourage. Directed by musical theatre aficionado Hayes Gordon, the spectacle was designed for global television, with actors selected after a nationwide search. Held on “Discovery Day”, it attracted a crowd of over 50,000 people.

Re-enactment of the first fleet arrival in Domain, Sydney, in 1938.
The Royal Botanical Gardens Sydney

Promoted as portraying the “birth of modern Australia”, this re-enactment capitalised on the groundswell of popular interest in Australia’s past. Emphasis was placed on historical accuracy, although nothing challenged the well-established nonsense of Cook’s party briefly confronting Indigenous peoples before peacefully claiming the continent.

To show how far the nation had progressed, “multicultural” schoolchildren and boy scouts and girl guides rose and fell in waves along the beach.

Protesting and mourning

Amid this “celebration”, diverse Aboriginal protests were under way, although they were little covered by the press.

At La Perouse, Aboriginal poet and activist Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) was among hundreds of protesters who boycotted the re-enactment and released funeral wreaths into the sea.

A silent vigil had been held the night before, and a “day of mourning” was observed at Sydney Town Hall and in other Australian cities.

Wreaths thrown into Botany Bay to mark the day of mourning, April 29 1970.
Image from the Tribune collection from the 1970 Cook Bicentenary protest, featured in the State Library of NSW’s upcoming exhibition, Eight Days in Gamay, opening late April.

In 1970, a second re-enactment was held in Cooktown, also witnessed by the queen. The original Endeavour had spent seven weeks there, undergoing repairs after running into the Great Barrier Reef.

Cooktown has a long record of Cook-related performances, though initially these were sporadic. But from 1960, the Cooktown Re-enactment Association organised an annual event.

The performances evolved from a battle with Aboriginal people to Cook landing and taking possession and, more recently, celebrations of acts of conciliation.

Queen Elizabeth greeted by a group of Indigenous children at a ceremony marking the bicentenary of Cook’s arrival in Cooktown.
www.abc.net.au

Future direction: same old or new path forward?

Until coronavirus and social distancing made all public events impossible, the federal government had slated to spend A$5.45 million on the Cooktown 2020 Expo, including a re-enactment of the landing of Captain Cook and his interactions with the Guugu Yimithirr bama.

As this historical overview of over a century of re-enactments of Cook’s landing has shown, these events have served to reinforce Australia’s imperial and British connections. They ignore the violence of Cook’s encounters with Aboriginal people and Indigenous resistance, and perpetuate the myth of Cook’s discovery of Australia.

You can hear Kate Darian-Smith discussing these ideas in an episode of our podcast, Trust Me, I’m An Expert, over here.The Conversation

Kate Darian-Smith, Executive Dean and Pro Vice-Chancellor, College of Arts, Law and Education, University of Tasmania and Katrina Schlunke, Associate professor, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Bronze Age discovery reveals surprising extent of Britain’s trade with Europe 3,600 years ago



© Great Orme Mines Ltd

Alan Williams, University of Liverpool

Britain’s wrestling with the scope of its future trade links with Europe may seem a very modern phenomenon. But early trade between Britain and Europe was much more widespread than previously thought. Our new research reveals remarkable evidence of a copper-mining bonanza in Wales 3,600 years ago that was so productive that the metal reached France, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

Understanding Britain during the Bronze Age (c.2,400-800BC) relies entirely on archaeological research. During this period, agricultural communities combined stock rearing with cereal cultivation. While they constructed numerous circular monuments, evidence for settlement is generally scarce before 1,500BC and on a small scale. Despite this somewhat insular vision of scattered farming communities, there is growing evidence of strong trade or exchange links with continental Europe. What the nature of these contacts were, in a pre-monetary economy, remain a matter of debate.

Copper objects (daggers, axes) first appeared in Britain around 2,400BC and were associated with people arriving from continental Europe. According to recent DNA studies, these arrivals eventually replaced most of the preexisting Neolithic population over the following centuries.

Britain’s copper supplies initially came mostly from southwest Ireland – Ross Island. As this source became exhausted, around 1,900BC, however, small mines opened in Wales and central northwest England. Production in these mines was relatively small, and had to be supplemented with metal from the continent.

Palstave axe found near the Great Orme. It is a type associated with Great Orme metal.
© Great Orme Mines, Author provided

This all radically changed around 1,700BC, with the discovery of the exceptionally rich copper ores of the Great Orme mine on the north Wales coast. This was one of the largest Bronze Age copper mines in Europe. Probably in response to the sheer richness and easily-worked nature of the Great Orme ores, all the other copper mines in Britain had closed by 1,600BC. The Great Orme mine met an increasing demand for metalwork of all types (axes, spearheads, rapiers).

Great Orme

Until recently, it was thought that the Great Orme mine was only large in size due to nearly a thousand years of small-scale seasonal working. This assertion was based on claims that the mine only produced high purity copper, which is uncommon in the artefacts of that period.

But our new research, which combines archaeological and geological expertise with the latest scientific analytical techniques, reveals a radically different picture. Extensive sampling of ores throughout the kilometres of Bronze Age workings, along with associated bronze tool fragments and copper from a nearby smelting site, have allowed “fingerprinting” of the mine metal based on chemical impurities and isotopic properties.

Distribution map of bronze objects (palstave axes) that are thought to be linked to Great Orme copper.
© R.A.Williams, Author provided

The surprising results revealed a distinctive metal rich in nickel and arsenic impurities and, combined with its isotopic “signature”, closely matched the metal type that dominated Britain’s copper supply for a 200-year period (c.1600-1400BC) in the Bronze Age. Remarkably, this metal is also found in bronze artefacts across parts of Europe, stretching from Brittany to the Baltic.

This very extensive distribution suggests a large-scale mining operation (in Bronze Age terms), with a full-time mining community possibly supported or controlled by farming communities in the adjacent agriculturally richer area of northeast Wales, where there are signs of wealth and hierarchy in grave goods. Geological estimates suggest that several hundred tons of copper metal were produced. This would have been enough to produce thousands of bronze tools or weapons every year, equivalent to at least half a million objects in the 200-year period.

When the mining boom turned to bust by around 1,400BC, the distinctive Great Orme metal gradually disappears. This major decline was probably due to the exhaustion of the richly mineralised central area of the mine that corresponds today to an impressive manmade underground cavern and an extensive deep area of surface mining (possibly a collapsed cavern). Both of these can be seen at the mine visitor centre. The bonanza was followed by a twilight period of many centuries, when all that remained were narrow ore veins that required a huge effort for a small output and probably only satisfied local needs.

Aerial view of the Great Orme Bronze Age mine site above Llandudno.
© Great Orme Mines, Author provided

Bronze Age trade

Tracing the metal from the extraordinary 200-year copper boom across Britain and into continental Europe suggests that Britain was much more integrated into European Bronze Age trade networks than had previously been thought. This is reinforced by fascinating new isotopic evidence from other researchers suggesting that the copper replacing that from Great Orme may have come from the Eastern Italian Alps, which would further extend the long-distance trade networks.

The next big challenge is to understand how important the exceptionally rich British tin deposits in Cornwall and Devon were in enabling the complete changeover from copper to bronze (10% tin, 90% copper), not only in Britain (c. 2,100BC) but also across Europe and beyond, where tin is very scarce. Researchers in Germany recently suggested a link between Bronze Age Israeli tin ingots and European tin deposits, rather than Central Asian deposits, and tentatively suggested a source in Cornwall, although much more research is required.

So we now have increasing evidence that Britain’s trade with continental Europe – although currently turbulent – has deep roots that go back several thousand years.The Conversation

Alan Williams, Honorary Research Fellow, Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


How our discovery of Julius Caesar’s first landing point in Britain could change history



File 20171129 29123 11p3qnw.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Wellcome Trust/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Andrew Fitzpatrick, University of Leicester

During the nine-year-long Battle for Gaul, Julius Caesar fought his way across northwest Europe. He invaded Britain twice; in 55BC, and again in 54BC. But while archaeologists have found evidence of the war in France, there has been very little discovered in Britain – until now.

At a site called Ebbsfleet, in northeast Kent, my colleagues from the University of Leicester and I finally uncovered the site where Julius Caesar’s fleet landed in 54BC. A series of surveys and excavations, spanning from 2015 to 2017, revealed a large enclosure, defended by a ditch five metres wide and two metres deep.

What a find: pilum tip from Ebbsfleet.
University of Leicester, Author provided

We dated the ditch all the way back to the first century BC, by examining the pottery and using radiocarbon dating techniques.

At the bottom of the ditch, we found the tip of an iron weapon, which was later identified as a Roman spear, or “pilum”. Similar weapons were discovered at the site of Alésia in France, where the decisive encounter in the Battle for Gaul took place. What’s more, the defensive ditches at Alésia are the same size and shape as those we discovered at Ebbsfleet.

In Caesar’s own words

Our dig was situated next to Pegwell Bay, a large, sandy beach with chalk cliffs at its northern end. This striking landscape also helps to confirm that we really have found the location of Caesar’s base. Most of what is known about Caesar’s voyage comes from his own written accounts, based on his annual reports to the Roman senate.

When the Roman fleet set sail from France, they intended to use the wind to help them cross the Channel to find a large, safe place to lay anchor and prepare for battle. But the wind dropped, and the fleet was carried too far northeast by the tide.

We came, we saw, we excavated.
University of Leicester., Author provided

At sunrise, Caesar saw Britain “left afar on the port side”. Only high land would have been visible from a small ship far out at sea. And the only such land in northeast Kent are the cliffs near Ebbsfleet. Caesar also describes how he left the ships riding at anchor next to a “sandy, open shore” – a perfect description of Pegwell Bay.

Given Caesar’s own words seem so clear, it’s surprising that Pegwell Bay has never been considered as a possible landing site before. Instead, Caesar was long thought to have landed at Walmer, 15 kilometres to the south. One reason might be that, until the Middle Ages, Thanet was an island.

The Isle of Thanet was separated from the mainland by the Wantsum Channel. But no one knows how big the channel was 2,000 years ago; it could be that whatever disadvantages it presented were offset by the presence of a large and safe beach, where 800 ships could land and disembark 20,000 men and 2,000 horses in one day.

Peace by force

Despite the imposing size of Caesar’s fleet, it was long thought that his landing had little lasting impact on Britain. Caesar himself returned to France immediately after the two campaigns, without leaving a garrison. Yet the discovery of the landing site gives us cause to question this assumption.

Making history at Ebbsfleet.
Andrew Fitzpatrick/University of Leicester, Author provided

Historical sources, royal burials and ancient coins indicate that from about 20BC, the kings of southeast England had strong links to Rome. But historians have found it hard to explain how these alliances came into existence. The suggestion that they sprung from diplomatic ties forged by the emperor Augustus at that time has never been convincing.

But Caesar tells us that he reached a peace accord with the Britons in 54BC, even taking hostages from the ruling families to ensure the agreement was respected. Perhaps the alliances which came to light in the 20s BC were originally established by Caesar, a generation before emperor Augustus asserted his authority over the Roman Empire.

The close ties between Rome and the kings of southeast England assured emperor Claudius of a relatively easy military victory, when he first set out to conquer England in 43 AD. So it seems Caesar’s earlier conquest could have laid the foundations for the Roman occupation of Britain, which lasted more than 300 years.

The ConversationFor Caesar, the consequences of his invasions were clear. In his day, Britain lay beyond the known world. By crossing the ocean and conquering Britain, Caesar caused a sensation in his homeland. He was awarded the longest public thanksgiving in Rome, winning great acclaim and glory in the process. Mission accomplished.

Andrew Fitzpatrick, Research Associate, University of Leicester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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