Megalithic site discovered in India

megalithic, India
The term “megalithic” generally brings to mind stone circles in the British Isles such as Stonehenge and Avebury, or giant tombs such as Wayland’s Smithy, yet prehistoric peoples in many parts of the world erected megalithic monuments.

India is rich in megalithic sites. In Cherrapunji, Meghalaya, India, are some imposing menhirs, or standing stones, shown in the Wikimedia Commons image above. In the Mahabubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh is a site with more than 80 menhirs, some 14 feet tall, plus numerous smaller stones. Some rows of stones are aligned to the rising and setting Sun on the summer and winter solstices and equinoxes. Also at the site is a map of the constellation Ursa Major (the Big Dipper, which points to the all-important North Star).

Now a new megalithic site has been discovered. Road construction in Chatra district, Jharkhand, has revealed numerous tall menhirs. Artifacts found at the site, such as a small copper ring and copper bell, date to the Chalcolithic (“Copper Age”) or 3300-1200 BC, although this has been disputed and officially the Archaeological Survey of India is dating the site to the 7th century AD.

Sadly the road work destroyed several stones, and others have been removed by local villagers. Now archaeologists are trying to educate the locals about the importance of such sites. The researchers are also hoping for an excavation license to figure out just how old the megaliths are.

For more on India’s ancient past, check out this extensive website on megalithic India.

Two day hikes in the mountains of Cantabria, Spain

Cantabria
As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’ve moved from Madrid to Santander, in Cantabria in northern Spain. This region is part of what’s often called Green Spain, made up of the four northern regions of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, and the Basque Country. I’m loving life by the sea and I’ve been busy exploring Cantabria’s countryside, which offers some of the best hikes in Spain. Green and mountainous, northern Spain is unlike most people’s popular conception of the country.

I discovered a local hiking group via a Couchsurfing friend. We go every other Sunday and the group also acts as an intercambio, or language exchange, which are very popular all over Spain. It’s a good way to practice your Spanish, French, German, English, Italian, or Portuguese. There’s also an Irish guy who insists on speaking to me in Gaelic because of my name. If he keeps it up I’m going to start speaking to him in Amharic.

My first hike with them was through the Reserva del Saja, a reserve in the cordillera Cantábrica. This is one a popular destination for hikers from Santander and is only about 40 minutes by car. The hike starts at Bárcena Mayor, a cluster of stone houses nestled in the woods by a mountain stream.

%Gallery-140381%From there we hiked along a dirt track through woods bright with fall colors. An amateur mycologist kept heading into the woods in search of mushrooms and soon had a sackful. Like in other parts of the world, some mushrooms in Spain are toxic and you shouldn’t pick mushrooms unless you know what you’re doing. He showed us one particularly nasty variety that will give you permanent liver damage if you eat it. After a long walk we humped over a steep ridge and on the other side saw a large pool fed by a couple of waterfalls. This made a peaceful stop for lunch.

When hiking with Spaniards, be prepared for their later eating hours. Our lunch stop was at about 2PM and some people commented that we were stopping too early. Another culture shock came when I brought out my practical wilderness lunch of a sandwich, chocolate bar, fruit, and water. Many of my hiking companions busted out elaborately prepared meals, fine cheese, even bottles of wine. The Spanish know how to live well, and don’t see why they should stop doing so simply because they’re miles from the nearest paved road.

My second hike through the cordillera Cantábrica was from the town of Ampuero, about half an hour’s drive from Santander. This is in the Ason-Aguera region. Our goal was to climb Mount Yelso, also also known as Mojon Alto, to see a prehistoric menhir, or standing stone. This mysterious ancient stone stands in a prominent location from which you can see the surrounding countryside as far as the sea.

Of course getting there was half the fun. The fall colors are wonderful in Cantabria at this time of year. We tramped through a forest past a mysterious cave entrance and a sinkhole hinting at another cave. This is one of the best regions for caving in Europe and in future posts I’ll be sharing my experiences under Cantabria. Some of these caves have prehistoric paintings dating back 10,000 years or more. Others go down more than a kilometer and if you want to see the whole thing you have to pitch camp and sleep underground. Cavers from other parts of Europe have been known to move here just so they can be closer to the amazing caving opportunities.

At times the forest opened up and we passed green fields where cows, horses, sheep, and goats grazed. We enjoyed sweeping views of the mountains all around and the play of light and shadow over the landscape as the shadows of the clouds passed overhead. The weather can be unpredictable in this part of the world so Cantabrians are in the habit of enjoying the outdoors any time the weather is favorable.

The hike ended, and all hikes should, with a trip to a local tavern before the short drive home.

If you’re passing through Santander, feel free to look me up (just Google me) and with enough prior notice I’d be happy to introduce you to the group and see that you have a fun hike in the mountains of Cantabria.

Stanton Drew stone circles yield more clues to the past

Stanton Drew, stone circles
A geophysical survey at the three stone circles at Stanton Drew near Bath, England, has uncovered more details about the prehistoric monuments.

This is Bath reports that subsurface imaging has added to a similar survey done in 1997. That survey revealed that the largest of the three circles was surrounded by a ditch with a wide entrance. The new survey, done with more modern equipment, discovered a second, smaller entrance. Archaeologists also found that one of the smaller stone circles stood on a leveled platform.

Stanton Drew’s main circle is more than 110 meters in diameter, making it the second largest stone circle in the UK, bigger than Stonehenge and second only to Avebury. The main entrance of its surrounding ditch faced a smaller stone circle to the northeast. Further away to the southwest was a third circle. Inside the main circle were nine concentric rings of wooden posts. These rings may have served as a sort of calendar marking important celestial events such as solstices and equinoxes. The megaliths of the three stone circles served a similar function.

Local folklore says the stones are a wedding party tricked by the Devil into celebrating on a Sunday. Stone circles have accumulated lots of folklore and several are said to be petrified people, including the Rollright Stones.

The complete archaeological reports are available here.

[Photo courtesy Rosalind Mitchell]

Smartphone app reveals new mysteries in Stonehenge landscape

Stonehenge
Recent excavations around Stonehenge have shown that the famous monument didn’t stand alone in the landscape; it was part of a network of monuments that developed over time.

One of the most enigmatic is Bluestonehenge, a mile away from Stonehenge and only excavated a few years ago. It was a stone circle much like Stonehenge, although now all that remains are the holes where the stones were placed around 3000 BC. Fragments of rock in the holes show the stones were originally bluestones, imported from Wales and also used for the inner circle of Stonehenge. In fact, some archaeologists believe they were removed from Bluestonehenge and incorporated into Stonehenge around 2500 BC.

Now a new analysis using a smartphone app (of all things!) indicates that Bluestonehenge might have originally been an oval. Past Horizons reports that archaeologist Henry Rothwell was working on a smartphone app about the Stonehenge landscape when he noticed something strange about the known holes of Bluestonehenge and those that hadn’t yet been uncovered. When he made a reconstruction of the site using the existing holes, they didn’t form a neat circle, but rather an oval.

In fact this oval is the same orientation and shape as Stonehenge and another site in the area–Woodhenge. Both Stonehenge and Woodhenge are aligned on the mid-summer and mid-winter solstices, and if Rothwell’s reconstruction is correct, then Bluestonehenge is as well. This makes a whole network of monumental sites stretching across centuries of history, all aligned to work as prehistoric calendars.

[Photo courtesy Steve Walker]

Was this strange stone a prehistoric calendar?

prehistoric
This odd stone may look like an unusual product of nature, but it’s actually a monument from about 4,000 years ago called a menhir. Archaeologists have long debated what menhirs were for, perhaps boundary markers or gravestones or something else. Now experts are saying this one, at Gardom’s Edge in the Derbyshire Peak District, England, may be a prehistoric calendar.

Archaeoastronomers, who study astronomical alignments in ancient monuments, studied the stone and found that where the sun hit the slanted side may have acted as a marker for seasons. Other prehistoric remains are nearby, including the mysterious carvings shown below.

Local Bronze Age people are believed to have kept their herds in the higher hills during summer and moved to the warmer valleys when winter set in. This handy calendar would have told them when to move their herds. While the researchers say this sundial may be unique, some other megalithic monuments have astronomical alignments, the most famous being Stonehenge. Megalithic monuments such as stone circles and menhirs can be found all over the British Isles and make for some interesting stops while hiking. Trails such as the Ridgeway Trail pass by several.

The Peak District is one of England’s most beautiful natural spots and Gardom’s Edge is a favorite spot for rock climbing.

[Images courtesy artq55 via flickr]

prehistoric