Welcome the return of the light: Solstice at Arbor Low

To celebrate the winter solstice and have a well-earned Christmas jolly, the Elmet crew journeyed up to Bakewell to see the sights and have some festivity!

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The stunning monument at Arbor Low is situated in Derbyshire, a short drive from the town of Bakewell. It comprises multiple features, including a henge and stone circle as well as a bowl barrow which cuts into the bank on the Eastern side. The henge itself is a huge bank with an internal quarry ditch which runs between 7 and 12 metres wide and originally thought to have been from 2 to 3 metres deep. The bank is roughly 2 meters tall, although thought to have been a further meter high originally, and the entire monument is roughly circular. There are entrances to the inner area of the monuments from both the North West and the South East, from which there are causeways built up over the ditch.

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Various excavations have been carried out at the site, and those based at the terminals of the ditch at the North West entrance found bone and antler tools, flint flakes and both a leaf shaped and a barbed and tanged arrowhead. At the South Eastern entrance, antler tines have been recovered and are thought to have been used in the monument’s construction.

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Within the henge is the stone circle itself, comprising of around 50 stones and fragments. Whether or not the stones at Arbor Low were originally stood vertically remains a point of contention in archaeology, although many people currently believe that they would have been laid down as they now appear. In the center of the circle, there is a large stone setting known as the cove, made from at least 6 stones set into a rectangle. An extended human burial has been recovered from the Eastern side of this setting, with another in a pit close by to the North East. A human cremation has also been recovered from the middle of the barrow at the monument, laid on the original land surface. Because of this, it is thought that the barrow post-dates the henge significantly. The burial and its associated finds of flint, bone, and some unusual pots place the cremation as either the same age as or even older than the henge monument.

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A winter solstice is an astronomical event marking the shortest day and longest night of the whole year in the Northern Hemisphere. Lots of different cultures throughout the world mark the solstice with ceremonies, and at their root lies the same basic principle: an ancient fear that the dwindling light would not return. Many ancient cultures would aim to encourage the return of the light by way of vigils or celebrations. Monuments were often built in alignment with solstices and equinoxes and served as observatories to study these events.

The winter solstice was especially important, as the monitoring of the seasons could be achieved through the knowledge of when this event would happen. This midwinter festival would usually be the last big feast before the harshest weather would set in. Because the winter solstice was seen as the beginning of the return of the sun, the ideas of rebirth were intertwined with the celebrations. The year itself was seen as being reborn, or as a new beginning.

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Pagan people of Northern Europe traditionally celebrated a twelve-day midwinter holiday known as Yule, which incorporated the solstice, and from which we get a lot of our modern Christmas practises. Yule is the time of the most darkness and is strongly linked to the ideas of the rebirth of the sun. The celebration of the solstice was also seen to be the return of nature.

We hope you all had an enjoyable and satisfying festive season!

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Bibliography

Burnham, A. 2012. Arbour Low 1 – Stone Circle in England in Derbyshire [online] Available from: http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=0003 [last accessed 05.01.2016]

Crystal, E. 2016. Winter Solstice – December 21/22 [online] Available from: http://www.crystalinks.com/wintersolstice.html [Last accessed 05.01.2016]

English Heritage. 2016. Arbor Low Stone Circle and Gib Hill Barrow [online] Available from: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/arbor-low-stone-circle-and-gib-hill-barrow/ [Last accessed 05.01.2016]

Historic England. 2015. Arbor Low henge, large irregular stone circle, linear bank and bowl barrow [online] Available from: http://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1011087 [Last accessed 05.01.2016]

The White Goddess Pagan Portal. 2016. Yule – Winter Solstice [online] Available from: http://www.thewhitegoddess.co.uk/the_wheel_of_the_year/yule_-_winter_solstice.asp [last accessed 05.01.2016]

Dearne Valley Archaeology Day 2015

With preparations for Dearne Valley Archaeology Day well under way, we thought it would be nice to give you all a more in-depth look at what we have in store for you this year by introducing you to some of our speakers, and giving you a bit of a sneak peak of some of the talks which they will be presenting!

This year’s conference will be taking place on Saturday the 30th of May, from 10AM until 5PM, and if any of the following should pique your interest, you can learn more and book your place here!

One of our speakers this year is Dr. Brenna Hassett (TrowelBlazers), who will be telling us about women in archaeology, in her talk ‘The Mystery of the Invisible Women Archaeologists: TrowelBlazers on the case’.

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‘We trace the stories to find that for every exceptional woman leading a team out to dig Great Zimbabwe, or Mount Caramel, there were a whole host of exceptional women working at her side. These secret histories can be traced through archival research, biographies, and also the memories of the students and colleagues that these amazing pioneering women inspired. We trace some of the networks of women working together to follow their passion for archaeology and find that there are many more in the field’s past than might be thought.’

Also presenting this year will be James Wright (MOLA), who will be presenting ‘The instruments of darkness tell us truths – Recent discoveries of ritual protection marks at Knole, Kent’.

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‘A series of carved symbols and burn marks beneath the floorboards led to the realisation that the carpenter’s working at the house were very concerned to protect the building from possession by witches, demons and evil spirits. Such ritual protection marks are a largely unrecorded feature of folk belief during the late Mediaeval and Early Modern periods and acted as a spiritual defence against the perceived threat of evil. However as research continued it became apparent that the dense distribution of symbols at Knole were intimately related to James I, witch trials, Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the Gunpowder Plot.’

Another of our speakers is Dr Naomi Sykes (University of Nottingham), who will be presenting ‘Beastly Questions: Animal Answers to Archaeological Issues’.

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‘This paper will attempt to provide a new perspective, showing how we can gain richer interpretations of the archaeological past if we place more emphasis on the animals that were such an integral part of human life. Drawing upon anthropological and scientific data (e.g. ancient DNA, stable isotopes and lipid analysis) this paper will highlight how studies of archaeological animals can provide exciting information about issue of human migration, trade, behaviour and cultural ideology.’

Helen Ullathorne (The Institute of Lifelong Learning, University of Sheffield) is also presenting at this year’s conference, with her talk ‘Redmires WW1 Military Landscapes: The Great War Remembered’.

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‘This talk examines the discovery and recording by the Department of Lifelong Learning (University of Sheffield) students of rare and previously unmapped WW1 training areas on Quarry Hill, north of the upper Redmires reservoir.  Partially backfilled trench-works, including fire, support and communication systems have been identified and surveyed by the students, as well as other features including a grenade range and broad arrow field kitchen.’

Dr Kevin Cootes will be telling us about the Poulton Research Project, in his talk ‘Putting rural lowland Cheshire on the archaeological map: the multi-period excavation at Poulton’.

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‘This investigation explores the results of an extensive petrographic investigation of Early Bronze-Early Iron Age ceramics from 23 sites within the Peak District National Park. The study region is characterised by Carboniferous Limestone Plateau, with basaltic lavas and related volcanic rocks forming occasional exposures. To the north, west and east are a series of alternating shale and sandstone layers commonly referred to as the Dark Peak. Compositional analysis has proven ideal in the study of prehistoric ceramics from this region on account of the distinct, heterogeneous geology.’

Dr Kirsty Millican (Royal Commision on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland), Dr Dorothy Graves McEwan (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Helen Goodchild (University of York) will be presenting their talk ‘The Lochbrow Landscape Project: A hidden archaeology’.

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‘First revealed as cropmarks on aerial photographs, this is a hidden landscape where nothing has survived above ground that would provide a hint to the repeated use of this location over thousands of years. This use encompasses the construction of an early Neolithic timber cursus monument, later Neolithic timber circles, Bronze Age barrows and Iron Age enclosures. By integrating cropmark analysis, geophysical survey, sediment coring and experiential survey, and with invaluable aid from students and local volunteers, the Lochbrow Landscape Project is shedding light upon this fascinating place and the rich archaeology buried beneath the ground.’

That’s all for today, but be sure to check back regularly for more updates and sneak peaks!