|10 July 1999
Seahenge removal postponed
The famous circle of waterlogged wooden posts found on a remote beach in Norfolk, England, (see Archæo News 3 and Archæo News 6) is transforming our knowledge of Bronze Age culture 4,000 years ago. The 55 posts, together with the up-turned stump of an oak tree in the middle, were first spotted on the beach at Holme, near Hunstanton, last November. They had become exposed after the peat dune covering them was swept away by winter storms.
The archaeologists say the find is unique in Britain, and the best preserved example in Europe. This is the first time we've ever found a timber circle intact in Britain, said Mark Brennand of the Norfolk Archaeological Unit. The sites of timber circles are not uncommon, but up to now all we have seen are the soil markings where the timbers once stood before they crumbled away. Here, the circle was built in water-logged ground so it's never dried out and the timbers have been preserved.
What really excited the archaeologists was the discovery of the large inverted oak stump in the centre of the circle. It is thought to have formed a sort of altar on which the bodies would have been placed to decay. The prehistoric belief was that allowing the flesh to rot from the bones in the open air would liberate the dead person's spirit.
Forty centuries ago Seahenge would have been further inland, rather than on the beach as it is now. An excavation by the Norfolk Archaeology Unit suggests that the circle was originally constructed on swampy ground up to a kilometre from the sea, which the waves covered at a later date.
However, the archaeologists have to work fast to save Seahenge. The circle is close to the low tide mark on the beach and could be destroyed by wave erosion now it has been exposed. English Heritage, the UK Government agency responsible for ancient monuments, is also worried about the numbers of sightseers and souvenir hunters visiting the site.
To protect the fragile remains it was decided to remove the timbers and take them away for analysis and conservation. Once lifted, they would be transferred to Flag Fen, near Peterborough, an archaeological centre which specialises in the study of prehistoric timber. But just a few timbers had been excavated when the archaeologists hit a snag. Not everyone wanted the circle moved.
Protestors, including self-styled druids and some local residents, launched a publicity campaign to obstruct the archaeologists' plans, arguing that much of the importance of the circle lay in its location, and that it should not be moved. The archaeologists have succeeded in getting a High Court injunction preventing some of the protestors approaching the site. The excavation work has been resumed but the transfer of the timbers to Flag Fen is has to be postponed to a later date.
After the timbers have been cleaned, examined and studied, it is hoped that Seahenge will be returned to a spot near its original site and go on public display.
Source: BBC News (8 July 99)
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