On-going Archaeological Dig @ Blick Mead, Amesbury UK
‘The Cradle of Stonehenge’
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01-05-2016: Update from the Trenches!
We have had some wonderful and exciting new dates from Trench 24.
The lower fill (lowest level), which contained a rough-cut tranchet axe and some worked flint, has given a date of 7960-7716 cal BCE. This is the earliest date we have recovered from our excavations at Blick Mead. However it is now the third date from our site that matches with the Mesolithic post-holes in the car park at Stonehenge.
From the main tree throw, where there signs of modification and of the area being used as a shelter, the lower fill dates to 4234-4045 BCE, and oak charcoal under the revetted cobble area adjacent to it dates 4236-4041BCE.
This means that we now have a very tight occupation sequence from Trench 24 reinforcing the finds that demonstrate we have found the oldest continuously occupied settlement in Britain!
On a human level it is very exciting because the dates from the base of T.24 are very late, very late indeed and with the ‘Gathering Time’ project showing the first indications of the Neolithic appearing around 4000 we have probably found an area where the last few generations who we can call Mesolithic were living. It’s really interesting that the people were using Mesolithic technology. Dr. Barry Bishop says the microliths are late, but that they are all microliths and there is nothing Early Neolithic. Which suggests a fairly rapid change in technology.
Head Archaeologist David Jacques, University of Buckingham, thinks that: ‘its amazing that the great grandchildren of those knapping the flint may have been the first to meet (or ‘convert’ to) people who would see themselves as being Neolithic coming to the area. Given the earliest dates for the Neolithic, which nearly all come from the contraction of the great monuments, its quite possible and maybe even likely that the first ‘Neolithic’ people were in the vicinity when the tree-throw was being used. It really brings the questions surrounding the transition into a personal focus. What did our Mesolithic people think of these new arrivals? What does Neolithic entail, is is just a way of working flint? I’m not sure, but its certainly very exciting to be dealing with the very people that all this was happening to.’
So we have got the very twilight of the Mesolithic period and just before everything starts to change. Now all we need to do is to try and work out what happens in the couple of hundred years after the tree-throw was inhabited …There is one little clue, though later in the Neolithic than that. The top fill from the main tree throw was dated from hazel charcoal found in a scoop which also contained a cache of Neolithic blades and flakes in it. The date returned is 3636-3507 BCE. Suggesting that people were still at Blick Mead in the middle of the Neolithic, bang on when the Cursus and many Long Barrows were going up.
For a more detailed review of previous findings see the University of Buckingham article here.
DAVID JACQUES is giving a lecture on the latest Blick Mead findings at Oxford University on the 29th of Jan and another one at University Buckingham on the 9th of February.
02-02-2016: More in-depth update on the finds of a DWELLING in Neolithic Stonehenge landscape:
The 6,300 year old shelter seems to have been created by enterprising Mesolithic hunter-gatherers taking advantage of the 3m-wide space left by a fallen tree (known as a tree throw). Cobbles pressed into the hollow’s sides appear to have been acting as revetements to support a natural ‘hollow’, while a nearby posthole may have once held a timber supporting an animal skin or thatched roof. Charcoal samples from this socket have now been sent for radiocarbon dating, producing dates of c.4336-4246 BC. These results place the dwelling right on the cusp of the transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic period, while distinctively Mesolithic-style stone tools were also recovered from the tree throw itself.
No hearth was identified within the shelter – perhaps unsurprisingly, given its flammability – but pieces of heat cracked flint, fragments of aurochs teeth, debitage from making stone tools and ochre pods were found in the throw hollow. Meanwhile, a series of large burnt stones were found in a pit close to the side of the tree throw – these appear to have been intensely fired, and may have been heated and then placed in the pit to heat the shelter through convection (like a modern storage heater?!). More stones were identified immediately around the shelter, including a large piece of sarsen, as well as a large cobbled surface covering most of the 10 m square trench which led down to the spring.
Our discoveries at Blick Mead suggest that we need to revisit ideas that the establishment of the Stonehenge landscape was all about Neolithic people arriving from the Continent and imposing their ideas on an empty landscape. It looks as though they could have met with a long-lasting Mesolithic community in this area, and that this may have been a multicultural place at the end of the 5th millennium into the early 4th millennium BC.
Since 2010, excavations at Blick Mead have revealed a wealth of prehistoric refuse from major feasting events, and over 35,000 worked flints), as well as dating evidence from 15 radio carbon dates that reveals activity on the site spanning over 3,000 years from c.7600 BC to c.4246 BC. Research continues, but the team has expressed concerns that plans to bury the stretch of the A303 that runs past Stonehenge in a tunnel might change the local water level and threaten waterlogged remains preserved by the spring.
27-01-2016: Plus, here’s some more detail about the big new EU exhibition on Stonehenge in Vienna which Blick Mead features in (and has loaned artefacts for) from March 20th 2016.
Also Mike Parker-Pearson’s latest Stonehenge book (published by the CBA) makes references to the site e.g, “just as all roads led to Rome, so they led to Blick Mead..in the
Mesolithic..”. Finally, Francis Pryor is considering a piece on Blick Mead in his new book on Stonehenge, and a monograph on the latest findings, published by Peter Lang, should
be out by Christmas.
17-08-2015: Here is the BBC HORIZON trailer for ‘First Britons‘.
The forest shots are from Blick Mead. In total we have about 5-6 minutes of the programme, including the final sequence. The programme will be aired on BBC 2 on Weds 19th August at 8pm and will be available on BBC iPlayer soon after.
22-07-2015: Article on our latest findings
24-02-2015: Video of David Jacques explaining the unique colour-changing flints at Blick Mead
23-02-2015: DailyMail article concerning our findings
12-02-2015: How the proposed Stonehenge A303 Tunnel will damage our site
Some of you will be aware that the Stonehenge Tunnel threatens to damage our Mesolithic site. Both Dr. Nick Branch and Professor Peter Rowley-Conwy have said that the drainage required for the cuttings of the A303 will degrade/destroy all the organics (including the bone which is needed for important carbon-dating) in the spring within 5 years. This has meant that the project, headed by David Jacques, have been increasingly involved in trying to get protection for the site from a number of government bodies. David Jacques’ letter in the Times pointed out the essentials (see picture below).
As a result of the letter, David received the English Heritage and National Trust assessment of the area which formed the background for the government policy. To our absolute shock, our site was not mentioned at all – not even in the impact assessment. This is because the remit of this report only covered Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments within the World Heritage Site which leaves our site with its earlier Mesolithic findings outside the purview of the report. Various politicians and archaeologists are also culpable because they have wilfully ignored the evidence from our site, evidence which would stop the tunnel being built.
So far David Jacques has had meetings with one of the co-authors of the report, plus emails from senior people at English Heritage. He will also meet with the minister of state next week. It has been a bruising time. The amount of establishment people who have vested interests in this tunnel happening is overwhelming and it is not easy having to deal with them all. David has submitted a Freedom of information Request and gone public with all the ‘stakeholders’ about that. The FoI request will mean that we should receive all documents within the next 20 days or so which is putting various people under pressure. They know that at the site we have good contacts in the media – our ‘Horizon’ programme is broadcast in March – which will have scenes within the stones as well as footage from our recent October 2014 dig.
We will be digging again in the Summer of 2015 as we will need to dig as much as we can in case this tunnel goes through.
13-10-2014: Our discovery of Cooked Frogs Legs featured on last nights QI – the site is actually 2 miles from Stonehenge at Amesbury, and 5000 years before Stonehenge was built… But great news to see it featured! The iPlayer episode can be found here, for a limited time (21 minutes in).
06-10-2014: Video: extraction of auroch leg (untouched for around 10,000 years) from Trench 19 before it is closed up. We have been pulling 1500 Mesolithic finds from this trench per square metre, as well as substantial pieces of auroch bone and tooth.
WATCH THE VIDEO HERE
04-09-2014: News from David Jacques – BBC 2 will be broadcasting the ‘Stonehenge Empire’ programme they filmed for last year, next Thursday 11th of September at 8.00pm. There’s a sequence in trench 19, then one in the finds area, then (rather amazingly) a reconstruction of an aurochs hunt which uses CGI and actors interspersed with David waving his arms around on salisbury Plain. The magenta stones also feature.
01-09-2014: “Mesolithic settlement near Stonehenge: excavations at Blick Mead, Vespasian’s Camp, Amesbury by David Jacques and Tom Phillips; with contributions by Peter Hoare, Barry Bishop, Tony Legge and Simon Parfitt” – access the article here: PDF Article
27-08-2014: Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine Vol.107: 7-27. 21 page write up on Blick Mead by David Jacques, Tom Phillips & contributions from Peter Hoare, Barry Bishop, Tony Legge & Simon Parfitt. See here and a preview of the first page: here.
Mid-September 2014: Feature in the ‘Stonehenge Empire’ BBC2 international documentary.
07-08-2014: Not our site, but still interesting for those who enjoy neolithic monuments in the UK:
07-07-2014: BBC4 repeat of the ‘Flying Archaeologist’ with Ben Robinson at Vespasian’s Camp.
03-07-2014: July edition of Current Archaeology magazine has a 6-page spread on the project. Giving a better perspective of the ground-breaking Mesolithic/Ice Age connection between the site and Stonehenge than the article in BBC Focus.
01-07-2014: July edition of BBC Focus features a 5 page spread on the Vespasian’s Camp project (University of Buckingham) in conjunction with Dr. Mike Parker-Pearson’s Riverside Project (UCL). However, the article doesn’t emphasise that Parker-Pearson’s research is now beginning to fit the work of Dr. David Jacques (Buckingham). In his 2012 publication Stonehenge: Exploring the Greatest Stone Age Mystery Parker-Pearson denies any Mesolithic link with Stonehenge, and certainly not with the Ice-Age.
12-05-2014: ITV Meridian/West broadcast about Amesbury and the findings from Vespasian’s Camp.
02-05-2014: BBC Wiltshire Radio Interview with the team, hosted by Ben Prater.
01-05-2014: Amesbury officially confirmed the UKs oldest settlement c.8820BCE. Beats Thatcham in Berkshire in Guinness Book of Records.
BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-27238503has 250,000 hits in 24 hours.
Also, coverage on Radio2, ClassicFM, BBC America and Delhi Daily News.
01-05-2014: NEWS JUST IN: CARBON DATES. Until now there were no carbon dates for the Mesolithic Stonehenge Landscape outside of the post area in the car-park of the Stonehenge monument. The 7th, 6th, and 5th millennia dates below are the first ever from the Stonehenge landscape, and have come from trenches on our site. This is the whole C14 sequence from the site:
|C14 Dates (BCE)||Location||Source|
|8500 – 7000||Stonehenge (Car-park)||Post-holes|
|7596 – 7542||Trench 19 (V. Camp)||Wild Boar|
|6698 – 6567||Trench 23 (V. Camp)||Aurochs|
|6360 – 6080||Trench 19 (V. Camp)||Aurochs|
|6226 – 6074||Trench 19 (V. Camp)||Aurochs|
|5469 – 5320||Trench 19 (V. Camp)||Wild Boar|
|5231 – 5048||Trench 22 (V. Camp)||Aurochs|
|5199 – 4992||Trench 19 (V. Camp)||Aurochs|
|4998 – 4835||Trench 19 (V. Camp)||Aurochs|
|4982 – 4832||Trench 19 (V. Camp)||Red Deer|
|4846 – 4695||Trench 19 (V. Camp)||Aurochs|
|4803 – 4702||Trench 19 (V. Camp)||Red Deer|
David Jacques writes that; ‘The date range reinforces the sense of the of the Blick Mead [location of Vespasian’s Camp] area being used for a long time. We have dates from all 3 trenches for the first time (contemporary with the posts). It might well be that we need to start seeing the whole Avon Valley here as the site, especially as my research is showing that Mesolithic material has been found around and about the [entire] area.’
22-04-2014: University of Buckingham (dig sponsors) launch Archaeology MA in Stonehenge Studies based on the research from our project. Course details can be found here: http://www.buckingham.ac.uk/humanities/ma/archaeology
29-03-2014: Last Year’s flint tools have finally been catalogued and numbered (these do not take into account finds since Nov. 2013). Up until October 2013 we had catalogued 11,646. But our total number of Mesolithic flint tools from Vespasian’s Camp as of March 2014 stands at: 30,607. Not including a very rare transverse (tranchet) axe head such as the examples below from Suffolk. The number of microliths (small stone tool usually made of flint or chert and typically a centimetre or so in length and half a centimetre wide) is now at 193, while the number of retouched pieces (reshaping of a used tool) numbers 442. Half of the total number of finds (15,670) are less than 15mm in size. (Find data recorded by Dr. Barry Bishop).
Find Density: Trench 19 is turning up 2,103 finds per m2; trench 22 is turning up 1,548 pm2; and trench 23 is turning up 1,404 pm2. The least of these is by far and away the highest yield of Mesolithic finds per metre squared of anywhere in the UK.
Read more about our work at Vespasian’s Camp and Stonehenge through the following links;
- Field work at Vespasian’s Camp, near Stonehenge, Wiltshire, 2005-13
- Discoveries at Vespasian’s Camp, near Stonehenge, Wiltshire, 2005-12
- Concluding thoughts – Vespasian’s Camp: Time after Time
- Vespasian’s Camp and the extent of its eighteenth century landscaping
- Vespasian’s Camp: The question of the Bronze Age barrows