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Study suggests Seahenge was built to control climate change

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A recent study published in GeoJournal proposes that Seahenge was built to conduct rituals aimed at prolonging the summer during the extreme climatic changes of the 3rd millennium BC.

Seahenge, also known as Holme I, is a prehistoric timber circle monument located on the English coast in the county of Norfolk.

Seahenge, along with the nearby timber circle, Holme II, was built during the early Bronze Age around 2049 BC. Seahenge consists of fifty-five small split oak trunks forming a circular enclosure with an upturned tree root in the centre.

The monument would have been positioned in an area protected from the sea by sand dunes and mud flats.  This swampy area created a layer of peat which slowly covered the timbers, protecting them from decay.

Over the centuries, changing sea levels have meant that the inland monument is now located on the coast, which has become exposed due to eroding sand and peat.

The study also looked at Holme II, a much larger monument consisting of two concentric timber circles surrounding a hurdle-lined pit containing two oak logs.

Previous theories propose that Seahenge and Holme II were constructed around the same time, either as burial markers or for sky burials, where the deceased would be placed in the monument to be gradually consumed by carrion-eating birds.

Study author, Dr Nance, proposes an alternative explanation. He suggests that both monuments were constructed during a bitterly cold climatic period for rituals, intended to extend the summer and the return of warmer weather.

Dr Nance explains: “Dating of the Seahenge timbers showed they were felled in the spring, and it was considered most probable that these timbers were aligned with sunrise on the summer solstice.”

“We know that the period in which they were constructed 4,000 years ago was a prolonged period of decreased atmospheric temperatures and severe winters and late springs placing these early coastal societies under stress.

“It seems most likely that these monuments had the common intention to end this existential threat but they had different functions.”

He points to the alignment of Seahenge with sunrise on the summer solstice and suggests that its function was to mimic the ‘pen’ described in folklore for an unfledged cuckoo with the intention to keep the bird singing and thereby extend the summer.

“Summer solstice was the date when according to folklore the cuckoo, symbolising fertility, traditionally stopped singing, returned to the Otherworld and the summer went with it,’ Dr Nance added.

“The monument’s form appears to imitate two supposed winter dwellings of the cuckoo remembered in folklore: a hollow tree or ‘the bowers of the Otherworld’ represented by the upturned oak-stump at its centre.

“This ritual is remembered in the ‘myth of the pent cuckoo’ where an unfledged cuckoo was placed into a thorn bush and the bird was ‘walled-in’ to extend the summer but it always flew away.”

For Holme II he points to legends of ‘sacred kings’ described in Iron Age Ireland and northern Britain who were sacrificed if misfortune fell on the community, as happened at Holme-next-the-sea, in an attempt to appease the goddess of Venus to restore harmony.

He said: “Evidence suggests that they were ritually-sacrificed every eight years at Samhain (now Halloween) coincident with the eight-year cycle of Venus.

“The fixtures in Holme II that were thought to hold a coffin, are orientated towards sunrise on Samhain in 2049 when Venus was still visible.

“Both monuments are best explained as having different functions and associated rituals, but with a common intent: to end the severely cold weather.”

Header Image Credit : Alamy (Under Copyright)

Sources : Nance, D.A. Holme I (Seahenge) and Holme II: ritual responses to climate change in Early Bronze Age Britain. GeoJournal 89, 88 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-024-11088-5

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Archaeology

Study reveals new insights into life at “German Stonehenge”

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Excavations of the Ringheiligtum Pömmelte, nicknamed the “German Stonehenge”, has revealed new insights into domestic life from prehistory.

Ringheiligtum Pömmelte is a late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age henge from the late third millennium BC. The monument features seven concentric rings made of palisades, ditches, and raised banks, each containing a series of wooden posts.

The site was discovered in 1991 through aerial photography near the present-day village of Pömmelte in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.

From 2018 to 2022, archaeologists have excavated nearly 140 ancient dwellings dating from 2,800 BC to 2,200 BC. The older dwellings are linked to the Corded Ware and the Bell Beaker culture, while the more recent ones are associated with the Únětice Culture.

In a recent study conducted by the State Office for Monument Preservation and Archaeology (LDA) of Saxony-Anhalt, archaeologists are employing various scientific methods to offer new insights into the site’s ritual and settlement landscape.

The study has identified house locations of the Corded Ware culture (26th to 23rd century BC), and an associated settlement pit containing ceramic sherds, an axe head and flint blades. Until now, Corded Ware settlement could only be attributed to individual finds that had been relocated, and not to actual structures on the site.

Also associated with the Corded Ware culture is a storage area with 78 grain silo pits that held various types of gain, including wheat, barley, and spelt. Archaeologists already know that Corded Ware people lived on a balanced diet with animal products, further indicated by drinking vessels from burials at Ringheiligtum Pömmelte that contained traces of dairy products.

While the scientific analyses and the interpretation of the results with various specialists continue, excavations at Pömmelte will last until mid-July 2024.

Header Image Credit : Shutterstock

Sources : State Office for Monument Preservation and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Archaeology

3,400-year-old shipwreck found with cargo mostly intact

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Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority Marine Unit have discovered a 3,400-year-old shipwreck with the cargo mostly intact.

The site was first identified during an underwater survey by Energean, an energy company searching for natural gas deposits beneath the Mediterranean Sea Floor.

This led to the discovery of the shipwreck and its cargo at a depth of 1.8 kilometers, along with its cargo that consists of Late Bronze Age Canaanite storage vessels.

IAA archaeologists, in collaboration with Energean, have used the deep sea exploratory vessel, “Energean Star” to conduct a visual inspection of the wreck site. This has revealed hundreds of ceramic vessels on the seabed, and a muddy layer which likely conceals a second layer and the wooden beams of the ship.

Jacob Sharvit, Head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Marine Unit, explains, “The ship seems to have sunk in crisis, either due to a storm or to an attempted piracy attack – a well-known occurrence in the Late Bronze Age. This is both the first and the oldest ship found in the Eastern Mediterranean deep sea, ninety kilometres from the nearest shore.”

Image Credit : IAA

Only two other ships from this period have been found – the boat from Cape Gelidonya and the Uluburun boat; both found off the Turkish coast. Both ships were found near the shore, suggesting that shipping routes followed the coastline between ports. However, this new discovery changes the understanding of ancient marine trade, demonstrating that ancient shipping also extended into deep waters.

“The ship is preserved at such a great depth that time has frozen since the moment of disaster – its body and contexts have not been disturbed by human hand (divers, fishermen, etc.); nor affected by waves and currents which do impact shipwrecks in shallower waters,” added Sharvit.

Header Image Credit : IAA

Sources : Israel Antiquities Authority

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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