|27 March 2001
Seahenge would be damaged if reburied?
Seahenge is one of the most enigmatic prehistoric monuments recently discovered. It dates from 2050 BCE and emerged three years ago on the beach near the village of Holme-next-the-Sea (Norfolk - England). Shifting sands gradually revealed a large, upside-down oak stump ringed by 55 timber posts. It is thought to have been a pagan place of worship, representing the ritual burial of a tree.
Fearing that the exposed timbers would rot away, English Heritage excavated the site in 1999 and removed the remains to the Flag Fen prehistoric centre in Peterborough. English Heritage is now pressing for Seahenge to be returned to the Norfolk sands, probably because no museum has agreed to take long-term care of the timbers and put them on public display.
Mike Corfield, EH chief scientist, said: "We hope that reburying will be the safest method of ensuring its survival." Maisie Taylor at Flag Fen said she regretted that no museum had taken responsibility for the timbers, but that reburial was preferable to allowing the timbers to decay. "Without conservation, they will deteriorate very rapidly, particularly as we move into warmer weather in the summer."
However, Martin Jones (professor of archaeological science at the University of Cambridge) said that returning the timbers to a salty environment could damage them. He said: "It would be like putting them into an oven; it would dry them out." Also, the cheapness and convenience of reburying the monument was obscuring the fact that nobody knew what effect this would have on the wooden remains. It is guesswork," he said.
Bacterial activity in the wood, as well as currents and sediments, could also harm the timbers. His warning came as conservators, pagan religious leaders and local people debated what to do with the prehistoric remains that survived 4,000 years in the sands off Norfolk.
Mr Corfield said he hoped that burying the timbers deeper down would give them a better chance of survival at the original site. He said: "That is the best we can do. It is a terribly evocative thing and it belongs in a landscape. It would look rather lost in a museum."
One option is to find a more stable site for Seahenge. Vanessa Trevelyan, head of Norfolk Museum Service, said that to display the circle in its entirety a new museum would have to be built, for which there were neither funds nor an audience in Norfolk. "The display would require public subsidy for the rest of its life and there is no political will for that." Pagan leader Rollo Maughfling, Archdruid of Britain, said the timbers would lose their significance if moved.
Sources: British Archaeology (February 2001), Electronic Telegraph (23 March 2001)
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