|28 November 2001
News on Seahenge
The famous 4,000-year-old Bronze Age timber circle discovered on a Norfolk beach (England), known as Seahenge, should be conserved rather than returned to its original site, says English Heritage. Despite protests by local residents and Druid groups, who said it was a religious monument, the timbers were dug up in the summer of 1999 for scientific study and to protect them from the waves. English Heritage, which oversaw and financed the removal, said the wooden circle could be destroyed by the North Sea if it is returned to its original site as some have requested.
Three-dimensional laser scanning is currently helping archaeologists to discover new facts about the monument. The research has so far found the community that built the structure was more highly developed and organised than expected. The new digital-imaging techniques pick out detail in the axe marks left on the wood during construction showing that at least 38 different axes were used on the timbers.
Francis Pryor, director of archaeology at Flag Fen Archaeological Centre near Peterborough, said: "The widely different 'fingerprints' of each of the axes show up clearly in the high resolution images. "It is remarkable that this tiny community was able to lay hands on such a large number of tools only about 100 years after the knowledge of how to make bronze arrived in this country." The axe marks found could be the oldest metal axe cuts in Britain.
Scanning of the timber circle's posts and central stump began last month and is due to end in December. It will produce an accurate and permanent record of the timbers, which are some of the earliest ever found. They have been precisely dated to the spring of 2049 BCE when the trees were cut down. "The scan will enable us to examine other features of the timbers, such as the insides of the "tow holes" in the central stump, through which honeysuckle ropes were threaded to haul it into position," said Dr Pryor.
Dr Pryor and his wife Maisie Taylor, an expert on prehistoric wood working, are starting to understand how the circle was set out. The central stump was placed first, then a back panel and an entrance opposite were set out, followed by marker timbers in an arc. The spaces between the markers were then filled in.
Debris left from dragging the timbers reveals that a stockpile of wood was kept to one side of the circle, while woodworking was carried out on another.
English Heritage has agreed to pay for the conservation process it has recommended. It is estimated to take about five years and will cost about £40,000. The organisation said in a statement: "Such a unique prehistoric structure of international importance should be conserved so as to be available for future generations, rather than be reburied deeply on the beach at Holme."
Sources: BBC News (19 November 2001), The Guardian (20 November 2001)
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