Stonehenge: New Contexts Ancient and Modern

Article excerpt

Jacques et al. (2010) have begun to report a Mesolithic site about 1.5km east of Stonehenge, just outside the town of Amesbury. Thousands of stone tools and debitage, cooked aurochs bone, burnt flint and other signs of domestic life show that it must have been a base camp (Bishop n.d.). Other than isolated artefacts, the only previous evidence for this period hereabouts is the 'totem pole' pits near the henge (Allen 1995: 41-47). Jacques's discoveries suggest a place of Star Cart's size. The site is Blick Mead, at a spring by the Iron Age hillfort known as Vespasian's Camp.

Jacques has also discovered artefacts dated from Neolithic to medieval. The evidence supports the idea of a long tradition of visitors to the district. The post-Mesolithic "hiatus" is no longer so "major" (Allen 1995: 62; Bishop n.d.).

A sample of the finds was shown in Stonehenge before the stones: local excavations at Vespasian's Camp, at the Ely Museum last December and January (Ayres 2011). They were in five cases with wall panels, photographs and a short film of the dig. The emphasis was on the Mesolithic blades (Figure 1), burins, microliths and other tools along with cores and some of the bone and burnt flint. Two fragments of Bronze Age metalwork were shown, Late Bronze Age and Iron Age pottery, three small stones dated to the Iron Age and interpreted as sculptures of birds, a Roman loom weight, the fragment of a Saxon brooch, and three later medieval pieces, including part of a wooden stake (presented in a little tub of water). One case complemented the film and photographs by showing technical details of the dig.

Why was this exhibition in Ely, nearly 200km north-east of Stonehenge? The core of the excavation team is recruited from the Open University, which provides distance learning supported by local tutors and advisers. Teaching in the University's East of England region, Jacques invited students to volunteer alongside Amesbury residents and a detachment of the Girls' Brigade. Supported with awards from the Open University and his college at Cambridge, and by the local authorities, English Heritage and a local business, he has brought experienced supervisors from his own region. Over the past seven summers, there have been just 26 days of digging. …