Stonehenge Site 3000 Years Older Than Previously Thought, Excavation Reveals

Stonehenge
Archaeologists working near Stonehenge have found that habitation in the area started at least 3,000 years before the famous monument was built.

The BBC reports that a team of archaeologists working at Amesbury next to a stream a mile from Stonehenge have found evidence that hunter-gatherers were frequenting the site well before Stonehenge was started around 3000 B.C.

The site is the closest source of water to Stonehenge and therefore would have been of prime importance for the local hunter-gatherers during the Mesolithic, the period before the Neolithic farming era when Stonehenge was started. Not only would it have been important as a water source and for the plants that grew along its banks, but hunters could have bagged the animals that came to drink there. Carbon dates from butchered animal bones at the site give ages of 6250 B.C., 5400 B.C. and 4700 B.C.

The excavation is run by David Jacques, a tutor at Open Univeristy. A hundred Open University students and other members of the public volunteered for the dig, which is running on a shoestring budget. The excavation has also uncovered material from later periods, including a pair of duck figurines dating from 700 B.C. Open University has an interesting video about the dig dating from 2011, before the important radiocarbon dates came in.

[Photo courtesy Flickr user Jeffrey]

Archaeologists Analyze John the Baptist’s Bones

John the BaptistThe Black Sea port of Sozopol has been making the news quite a bit lately. First, Bulgarian archaeologists uncovered two vampire skeletons there, and now its relics of John the Baptist have been submitted to scientific analysis.

Back in 2010, archaeologists uncovered six bone fragments from a marble sarcophagus in the ruins of a medieval church on the island of Sveti Ivan, “Saint John,” near Sozopol.

The bones are on display at a church in Sozopol. One of them, a knucklebone, was radiocarbon dated at the University of Oxford’s Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit. The team found it dated to the first century A.D.

The radiocarbon results will no doubt cheer the faithful, who generally dismiss radiocarbon dating when it proves the world is more than 6,000 years old or that the Shroud of Turin is a medieval fake.

Geneticists at the University of Copenhagen analyzed three bones and found they belonged to the same male individual, and that he hailed from the Middle East.

So could this be John the Baptist? It’s possible, although of course it can’t be said for sure. One point in favor is that a box made of volcanic tuff from Cappadocia, Turkey, was found next to the bones. On it is an inscription in ancient Greek of John’s name and feast day. Researchers note that many relics came from the Holy Land via the religious communities in Cappadocia before ending up in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, modern Istanbul. They were then distributed throughout the Empire.

Many relics from John the Baptist can be found in churches throughout the world, including several examples of his head. Gadling blogger and relics researcher David Farley came across one story of a Spanish monk who went in search of a relic for his monastery. As Farley relates:

“During his wanderings he happened upon a black market relics salesman who told him he had a fine relic he could sell him. It was the head of John, the Baptist. But this wasn’t just the head of John, the Baptist. It was the head of John, the Baptist…as an infant.”

[Photo of Serbian painting of John the Baptist, c. 1235, courtesy The Yorck Project]

Mystery mound in England turns out to be ancient monument

England, Silbury Hill
England’s prehistoric landscape has a new addition.

Marlborough Mound in Wiltshire has long been a mystery. The flat-topped cone of earth looks like a smaller version of Silbury Hill, pictured here. The bigger mound was finished around 2300 BC at a time when Neolithic farmers were erecting stone circles such as Stonehenge and Avebury. Now archaeologists have taken samples from Marlborough Mound and carbon dated them to 2400 BC.

Carbon dating, which measures decaying carbon isotopes in organic matter, has a slight margin of error that increases the older the sample is. Thus Silbury Hill and Marlborough Mound may have been finished simultaneously, or at least in the same generation. The two mounds are only about 20 miles apart, a day’s walk for a Stone Age farmer or excited archaeologist.

The mound was reused several times. The Romans had a settlement next to it and the Normans built a castle on top of and around it in the late 11th or early 12th century. Early Norman castles were wooden palisades around an artificial mound. In this case their prehistoric predecessors saved them some work. The wooden walls were later replaced with stone ones but the castle has long since vanished. In the 17th century the mound was turned into a garden. The mound stands on the grounds of Marlborough College and is off-limits to visitors. Hopefully that will change now that its true importance is understood.