Monday, May 23, 2016

It's time to get real about Stonehenge - Britain's premier 'SKY BURIAL' site

June 1 update: Yes, there's been a change of title. See end of posting for reasons.

Summary: Nobody had any doubt as to the purpose of "Seahenge" when it was exposed from the Norfolk coastline in 1998. Its instantly acquired nickname showed that its resemblance to that most iconic of stone circles on Salisbury Plain was striking, despite the absence of a "henge", i.e. encircling combination of bank/ditch.  So why the coyness about the likely role of Stonehenge and all those other circles of standing stone, given the way they match to varying degrees the "Seahenge" template? So what REALLY was the purpose of those standing stones, assuming they were not mere open-display ornaments boasting a facility in arranging megaliths as if mere Lego bricks, but serving some deeply mysterious, some might say overhyped ritual and symbolism? 

Come to think of it, what was the purpose, if any, of those curious and peculiarly British scars on our chalk and limestone plains and downs,the ones we call "henges", rarely if ever stopping to ask why?

There is a simple answer to both those questions, applicable not only to Seahenge and Stone enge, but to at least 8 other stone circles sites, ranging from the Orkneys to the Near East (and probably further afield). The answer is "AFS" (this retired scientist's coy but hopefully provisional abbreviation for the unmentionable e word that sometimes appears briefly in the media, occasionally in full, or  more euphemistically referred to as "sky burial").

Late insertion: before reading this posting, one which makes a major claim  that standing stone sites were for the most part sites for SKY BURIAL, I would advise my readers to do the following search: (circle standing stones cremated bones)

Note how, entry after entry, there's a reference to "cremated bone" at the base of one or more of the standing stones. Note how the reader - you - are left to assume that is the bone from cremated whole bodies. Kindly do not make that assumption. Instead, assume as I have done, that it's the bones from bodies that have first been defleshed ("excarnated") by scavenger birds (crows, gulls etc) encouraged to use those standing stones as perches. No, it's not pleasant to contemplate, but that's no excuse for totally misreading one's own nation's history, and  for myopic archaeologists to bang on endlessly about "ritual landscapes", "megalithic symbolism" etc etc if, in point of fact, circles of standing stones were simply excarnation sites, with cremation performed as end-stage sterilization.


The year was 1998. It was described as the most important archaeological discovery in Britain, at least in the late 20th century, possibly longer (I say longer). 

To those reading this who are less  familiar with what was quickly dubbed “Seahenge” I strongly recommend the BBC’s 1998 Report entitled "Seahenge gives up its secrets" . It  began with this amazing image. For many, the BBC reporter and myself included, it made the purpose of Seahenge, located where it was, and when it was (2000BC) immediately obvious.

"Seahenge", aka Holme 1. Image from BBC report, 1999.

The BBC's own teaser of a caption?: "Timber circle was gateway to the afterlife".

The article starts as follows (my bolding)

A circle of waterlogged wooden posts found on a remote beach in Norfolk, England, is transforming our knowledge of Bronze Age culture 4,000 years ago.

The 55 posts, together with the up-turned stump of an oak tree in the middle, were first spotted on the beach at Holme, near Hunstanton, last November. They had become exposed after the peat dune covering them was swept away by winter storms.

Norfolk County Council's Archaeological Unit identified the find as a Bronze Age timber circle dating from around 2000 BC - roughly contemporary with Stonehenge. Inevitably, the circle was dubbed Seahenge.
The article continues: 

Left to rot

It is thought timber circles were used by prehistoric cultures to expose their dead to the elements, birds and wild animals - a practice called excarnation. The belief was that allowing the flesh to rot from the bones in the open air would liberate the dead person's spirit.
There you see the first and probably last use of the e word in this posting. Henceforth it will be replaced by AFS (a term I have coined, short for Avian Facilitated Skeletonization).
Why the coyness?  Followers of my string of recent postings, here and my specialist Stonehenge/Silbury Hill site., will be able to recall or guess the reasons. This handy graphic, discovered a few days ago, provides a clue.

No further comment, at least not for now...


Back to the BBC and its perceptive reporting.  Yes, it wastes no time in flagging up the unspeakable, in acccording greater value to sense than sensibility (apologies to Jane Austen), unlike vast tracts, some might say deserts, of the mass media.  Often that handy euphemism. "sky burial" is substituted instead though maybe conjuring up ghoulish images of Zoroastrian practices centred on vultures and the deceased, which while relevant are hadly appropriate for the UK's scores of iconic sites, standing stones especially.  Vultures are a rare sight in the UK. So, that BBC reporter's  linkage of timber posts to AFS starting  "it is thought" must refer to some very private, rarely articulated thinking, given the dearth of returns one finds from the internet.  Try searching the latter for (timber circles and that "e" word that I call AFS, or use that sky burial euphemism instead and see how many returns you get, dear reader - go on, TRY!.  Maybe the BBC reporter had the good (?) fortune to meet with some archaeologists or other experts displaying a rare candour to the media re, shhh, AFS.

  Already, one could gently charge the reporter jumbling up the facts,  and failing to provide a coherent chain of thought, while not disagreeing with the candidly expressed conclusion  that “Seahenge” was a site for some kind of 'you know what'...

Dissecting out the variables (yes, let's be scientific if possible)

Firstly, that BBC report, admirably concise and informative on the key issue though it was,  omitted to explain why a timber circle was necessary for excarnation, especially if the centre piece (i.e. massive upturned tree stump) was simply the place for “leaving a body to rot”. Why the need for the sturdy surrounding posts, all butted up against each other, debarked on one side, not the other etc etc, if all that was needed was a temporary screen for a one-off "AFS" as the item and later reporting implied?

There are different kinds of excarnation, more specifically “passive excarnation” and yes, one of them rely on the insalubrious slow rotting of  bodies (though usually buried underground for a period if that is the intention).  But would the local wildlife, birds especially, ever allow that to happen in a conspicuous open-air location?  Ah, but as the reporter indicated, albeit briefly, subliminally some might say,  there’s another, the kind which relies on visits by ground-based scavengers and, ESPECIALLY that  third one , colloquially, indeed poetically,  known as “sky burial” , one in which the AFS (i.e.defleshing) is performed specifically by visiting birds, either for religious or practical reasons or both. By jumbling up those three into the one sentence, the reader is left to figure out why “timber posts” are needed, if indeed they are needed at all, except maybe as a modesty screen to preserve sensibilities.

The narrative is excarnation, but specifically by birds. But sadly, one has to say, there's clear evidence in the media of an intruding, obfuscating truth-suppressing  counter-narrative. It does not challenge AFS head on, arguing there is no role for excarnation  in Neolithic or Bronze Age Britain, at Seahnege or elsewhere, bar one exception spotted recently from Orkney where that bald statement appeared, but without a shred of supporting evidence in the same 118 page pdf document (the link to which may or may not work). Instead, the counter-narrative ignores or banishes the e word entirely,  flagging up distracting alternatives instead, creating a verbal smokescreen of  waffle, redolent with references to the Neolithic mind, to symbolism, to ritual bla bla , i.e. abstract intangible concepts that are not capable of either support or refutation, that may at first sight look and sound admirably well-informed, indeed 'scientific' after a fashion. but if the truth be told is pseudoscience (this blogger's hobby horse, indeed bugbear).

The only tangibility is the iconic megaliths themselves, which sadly do not speak for themselves, having no inscriptions or carvings (excluding those fascinating pictograms at the Gobekli Tepe site in Turkey). Instead we have to rely on the current past and present archaeologists, straddling the fuzzy divide between science and the liberal arts, "interpreting" the stones for us, and for the most part, indeed almost without exception, averting their  (and our) gaze from the obvious, namely that standing stones (or simpler timber posts)  make excellent bird perches, and indeed will be quickly patronised by birds, whether that was the intention or not...
Still more gawping tourists...

One has already seen the process  of de-focusing at work through the unhelpful references to two modes of excarnation in which timber posts play no obvious role, omitting to mention that the third – AFS– can indeed play so obvious and important a role as to make timber posts a signature for “sky burial”. The waters have been muddied immediately with those references to a body being left to “rot” when that is clearly not what Seahenge is or was about.

So what is the precise role or the timber? We are not told. There is no analysis in the context of sky burial, which is hardly surprising given the way the focus has been switched to other irrelevant means of passively- effected ("natural") skeletonization.

Nor are we told why the name “Seahenge” was adopted, but are left to assume, reasonably, that while it’s nothing to do with timber (ignoring the likelihood that Stonehenge was “Timberhenge” to begin with, it must be to do with the geometrical arrangement of a circle of uprights. Stonehenge is a “stone circle” (with added horseshoes as well) so that’s presumably the common factor. It can’t be “henge”, i.e. the combination of an outer ditch and bank, since Seahenge has no such counterpart, so scarcely warrants being christened as such. Already we are gasping for oxygen, in scientific terms, if you'll pardon the metaphor, as one liberty – conceptual or semantic – is piled on top of another ,despite the Seahenge site being recognized quite rightly as of major importance.

The task today is to dissect these various strands, put them into some kind of logically consistent and systematic framework, one in which the role of Seahenge can be seen more clearly, stripped of irrelevancies, and then consider the implications for the role of its near name-sake, the more illustrious  (correctly named) Stonehenge. 

In fact I shan’t stop there. I shall be consider 8 other sites, from Orkneys to the Near East, Anatolia and the Golan Heights, all of which feature “standing stones” and asking: what can Seahenge tell us about the role of all those sites. I shan’t be giving much away if I say straightaway that if Seahenge can be quickly identified as a site for sky burial,  specifically AFS, then there can be no logical grounds for denying the same utilitarian role to all other sites that display similar essential characteristics. But I shan’t be content with that. An attempt will be made here to seek scientific as well as logical grounds, though that will require an examination of the nature  and BALANCE of scientific evidence, NEGATIVE as well as positive (yes, they both have a role to play).

First let’s ask a simple question.Why did the BBC report appear to accept without quibble that Seahenge was a site for reducing a body (or bodies) to a skeletal state,  notionally releasing the otherwise sequestered immortal soul or spirit, despite the irrelevancies cited? What is it about Seahenge that makes it virtually self-evident? 

First, let’s by clear about one thing. One is lacking entirely the DIRECT evidence that connects Seahenge with disposal of the dead – regardless of means. Why? Because there is no body, nor bodies, nor remains thereof (bones etc) at least not in the Seahenge discussed thus far, now called Holme 1, due to discovery of a “sister” site nearby called Holme 2. (That, and its possible ‘burial mound’ which bizarrely looks set to remain unexcavated for all time (!) may be discussed late in a postscript. ).

So if there’s no human remains, not even the tiniest fragment of bone, isn’t talk of any kind of  defleshing site premature?

At first sight, the answer to that would appear to be yes, at least to the  metaphysical purist. But science would not make the progress it has if one was over-inhibited in proposing, indeed imputing likely cause-and effect relationships, not if the alternative is a virtual ideas vacuum, bar constant reference to "ritual", "symbolism", the "Neolithic mind" etc etc.    The key word is  “likely”, coupled with a never-ending quest to harden up on "likely" until it becomes “with near certainty” - even if final mathematical-style proof is the proverbial pot at the end of the rainbow.

The nitty gritty

So let's get started by stating  formally why Seahenge IS almost certainly an excarnation site, despite the absence of a single body or remains thereof.

Science operates in different modes. One of them is ‘hypothesising’ or as I prefer to say ‘model building’ which immediately flags up the need for any hypothesis to be linked with the making of predictions, the  search for and uncovering of new data, the only means by which the truth or otherwise of the hypothesis can be judged.

Imagine one were designing a site for AFS, one that would (a) attract birds (b) offer them a free meal (c) provide a safe and secure perch with short two-way sorties only needed between  perch and buffet table and (d) on the subject of safety,  create lots of  surrounding open space, preferably with a light background, such that prowling ground-based scavengers ad predators  with sharp teeth or claws can be quickly spotted, with time to raise an alarm and/or fly off to safety.

Here’s a template that would seem to fit the bill (I confess to some working backwards as well as forwards):

1. A central flat surface (“table”) on which the food would be displayed prominently, visible as soon after sunrise as possible if relying on birds that are less voracious than vultures.

2. Perching places that are a short distance, ideally equidistant, from the table to which the birds can retreat after acquiring food in their beaks.

3. The perching places can be isolated timber posts or stone columns, and for extra roosting space, bridging lintels could be fitted.

4. That central outdoor ‘picnic area’, with its ‘Peck ‘n’ Perch facility, must not be roofed over, i.e open to the sky, and needs some kind of ‘outer zone of protection’. 

5. The latter could take many forms. It could be marshy of boggy ground to deter foxes, vermin etc. It could be a high encircling bank of earth or rock. It could be a deep encircling ditch. It could be a combination of encircling bank and ditch, i.e. a “henge”. Or it could simply be a timber palisade (stockade?) formed from timbers that are butted up to offer no gaps for entry. Indeed, the palisade of butted timbers could double as the perching place, provided the posts were tall enough to make it difficult for ground-based predators to reach the perching birds.

Here’s a template:

Diagram (to come later - simply a central table, a circle of standing timber or stone posts, and an outer circle, e.g. bank, ditch, henge etc circumscribing the 'safe' central zone).

(Afterthought: there are so many variants on the initial and evolving template - some 5 already without Stonehenge - that I've decided to place them in an Appendix at the end of tthis posting)

Ring any bells? Yes, it’s Seahenge, provided one accepts that the original salt marsh, some distance inland from the present (eroded) coastal location served as the ‘outer zone of protection’. Indeed that may explain its otherwise curious location, at least if seen as a “temple”. (yes, it did not take long for that term to creep in, providing one more example of the way the attention can be distracted from AFS onto something that doesn’t attempt to dismiss “sky burial” but to sanitize (?) it with conjured-up images of ceremony and ritual which may or may not have accompanied the practical business of disposing of the dead. 

The ‘distractions’ do not end there, given the several references to Seahenge serving as a one-off site for disposing of a particular VIP,  with suggestions that Holme 2 having the buried remains which we’ll never know is true or not, given the baffling decision not to excavate Holme 2. That is another instance of blunting the impact of the AFS route, pre-emptively making it seems as if Seahenge was not set up at some considerable cost and inconvenience for serial ‘send-offs’ of scores of the deceased, not all of them VIPs, maybe hundreds over a period of time that can only be guessed at (unless there are multiple remains in that Holme 2 “burial mound” that has yet to warrant what some might consider a  prematurely- applied label). 

So we have a template, which could have been arrived at  purely by ab initio speculation (‘blue-sky thinking, aka scientific hypothesising) and it matches up closely to Seahenge. So what’s the logical next step? We’ve already said that “Seahenge” was a name coined to make a questionable link with Stonehenge. Should it not have been the other way round? Should no time have been wasted in seeing if Stonehenge was simply a stone-built version of Seahenge that fitted the above template description, differing only in the detail while serving precisely the same purpose – AFS?

In passing, here's a link to Ken West’s splendid posting on the Good Funeral Guide. There's also a thoughtful and informative pdf. Here’s a link to a Google search in which Ken’s paper, which this blogger first chanced upon a couple of months ago AFTER some months of suspecting Stonehenge as an excarnation site. The papers that follow it are without exception – several - on my own sites – either this this one, or my specialist Sussing Stonehenge etc, where I flagged up excarnation way back in 2012,  and, finally  comments I’ve placed on Ancient-Origins and elsewhere, all proselytizing what I believe to be a new narrative, arrived at independently by KenW and myself.   (Sorry to have to point this out, but it's needed to counter the suggestion made elsewhere that this blogger wittingly or even unwittingly peddles secondhand ideas. The internet does not support that contention. Links have been requested. Links have not been supplied.)

In passing, there’s a crucial difference between my thinking and Ken’s. First I see a role for the gull especially, for reasons set out in previous postings, and second I see those high lintels as purpose-built as bird perches par excellence. It doesn’t stop there, returning to that template above for the “ideal” sky burial site.

Stonehenge ,as the name implies, a henge, admittedly not an unambiguously non-defensive structure, with the bank being inside the ditch instead of outside, like at Avebury. Irrespective, when first constructed as an outer-perimeter for a putative excarnation site, it would have given a great reassurance to visiting birds, whether gulls, crows etc, given a ground-based predator would not only have to negotiate them both, but would have been highly visible against the gleaming white newly-excavated chalk.  

What’s more the site would have been illuminated immediately or shortly after sunrise in the midsummer months at least, given the orientation, with the major entrance causeway, bridging the ditch, facing the north-east, which is the direction from which the first rays of dawn appear at the summer solstice. Yes, there may be an explanation for the alignment of Stonehenge with respect to sunrise (or sunset) that has nothing to do with supposed worship of the sun, and everything to do with making an excarnation site highly conspicuous to birdlife at the crack of dawn, or maybe the first hour or so later, depending on the precise month of the year. See this blogger's simple model, made using white flour and a bright electric torch.

So why stop at Stonehenge?  What about all the other Neolithic and/or Bronze Age sites that have henges, ditches, banks, standing stones, stone circles,  simple timber posts, maybe long- gone, leaving just postholes (Woodhenge etc), and maybe linear standing alignments too (Carnac), with central tables that may or may not still be present? What about more exotic sites, further afield, one’s in which one can still perceive the three-part template of central table, perches and outer zone of protection. I refer to Rujm el-Hiri in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights with its concentric stone walls, now largely collapsed to loose rubble but still recognizable as circles, and to the celebrated if somewhat controversial Gobekli Tepe in S.E. Anatolia (really as old as hunter-gatherer era 10,000BC?) with its unusual and distinctive “T-shaped” pillars (bird perches, not for gulls and crows but much bulkier vultures?). Excarnation has been mooted at both those sites – which I personally find highly convincing, while recognizing that the particular means in question does not lend itself to confirmation by means of positive evidence, but more by lack of positive evidence of alternatives like burial or cremation (i.e. no grave goods, no bones).

But let’s return briefly to Stonehenge where there may be POSITIVE evidence. I refer to cremated bone. There’s a vast number of fragments (said to be 50,000 or more) that were stowed away in just one of the ‘Aubrey holes’  after being unearthed in the 1920s, being declined by museums and ‘put back roughly whence they came’. 
Crermated bones, Stonehenge. But don't assume whole body cremation.

Even if only from 40-50 or so individuals (from memory) that’s a lot of cremation at a site that does not strike one immediately as a crematorium, and not just because of the absence of a chimney. Why install all that stonework if it was simply a place where funeral pyres were lit? But here’s where there’s a lacuna in the litetarure, one that for some reason is never commented upon.

 What was being cremated? Whole bodies? Has that proposition, or should one say, assumption ever been critically assessed? It might not be easy to do so, but can’t be discarded for that reason. Is there any other reason why there might  have been cremation at Stonehenge that is predicted, or predictable in principle, from the excarnation template? Yes, it doesn’t bear with thinking about for more than a second or two, but it seems fairly obvious that a site attendant could not simply scoop up what was left behind by the gulls and present them as a take-away package to the family (bearing in mind that unlike Seahenge, disposal on an outgoing tide was not an option). Cremation could have been for end-stage clean-up of largely or semi-excarnated remains. Were it possible to demonstrate that the cremated bones at Stonehenge were from excarnated remains, not whole bodies, one would have a smoking gun (well, a once smoking something) that the site existed for excarnation, and that the evidence for that was not simply from template-matching and negative evidence (no grave goods etc) but some rare and not-to-be-lightly dismissed POSITIVE evidence.

As indicated earlier, this blogger has taken 10 of the most iconic Neolithic/Bronze age sites and evaluated each according to a standard checklist, based mainly on the template, but including a column for any unusual features, like those copious quantities of cremated bones at Stonehenge, with a view to asking whether they might all of them, without exception be excarnation sites. That’s acknowledging, one hastens toad,  that others have already been fingered as such, notably Rujm el Hiri in the Golan Heights by the largely US-based  archaeologist Rami Arav. There may be others too (reading still in progress).

Unfortunately the near-final table is too big for this site, except for those who can get Blogger graphics to enlarge on their screens without too much loss of definition.

Evaluation of 10 sites as prospective sky burial locations
(Clicking on the above image may enlarge it on some computers, using some browsers, but don't rely on it).

I’ll post it here first, see above (see what I mean?) if only to show that the homework has been done. Each site ends with a light-hearted ‘Peck ‘n’ Perch’ ranking, 1 to 5 stars,  for the benefit of itinerant birdlife wishing to commune with its own pre-history. No prizes for guessing which tops the list, the Ritz of excarnation sites, with its unique high lintels.I may try posting it to my specialist Stonehenge site, though it’s in disgrace for recently deleting an entire posting composed online when I hit the Send key. (This one is being composed in Word, once bitten twice shy).

Finally, here’s a graphic that summarises this retired blogging scientist’s final considered view on the 10 sites selected. 

(Click to enlarge) 10 iconic sites, all fitting to a greater or lesser degree the expected profile of a "sky burial" site, i.e. avian-facilitated skeletonization

Listed sites:

1. Avebury Henge and Stone Circles, UK
2. King Stone, Rollright Stones, UK.
3. Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK
4. Carnac, Brittany, France.
5. Seahenge, Holme, Norfolk, UK
6. Arbor Low, Derbyshire, UK
7. Rujm el-Hiri, Golan Heights, Israeli-occupied Syria.
8. Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, Scotland, UK
9. Gobekli Tepe, SE Turkey.
10.Woodhenge (artist's reconstruction), Wiltshire, UK

They were ALL without exception excarnation sites, because SKY BURIAL in Neolithic times was considered the done thing, the decreed norm across a broad swathe of the globe,  the decent send-off that ensured liberation of the soul from the mortal remains.  There was liberation to the sky, as indicated, and,  at least for coastal sites, probably release of the final excarnated remains to the sea as well (Ring of Brodgar, Seahenge, Carnac). Takeaway option (by grieving relatives) or onsite-interment of cremated remains served as an alternative end- step at inland sites. The important thing to note is the relative paucity of human remains at standing stone sites, sufficient to mark then out as "a place of the dead" or similar label, but providing little evidence of wholesale burial, and only partial interment of cremated remains (suggesting widespread disposal of ashes etc into the sea or nearest river, as others before me have flagged up elsewhere on many occasions). As stated earlier, always take on board  the NEGATIVE as well as positive evidence.

08:10 There's still some tidying up still to be done here, typos to be corrected, rephrasing, missing links to other sites, decisions on whether to keep this or that sentence or paragraph. But I'm in central London today to see UCL*- affilated Barney Harris's project at Gordon Square to see how many people are needed to lift a 1 tonne megalith. See previous posting with link to Evening Standard article and my comment. Decision:  since I'm setting off to the station shortly, and will be out most of the day, I'll hit the SEND button shortly, and then check back late afternoon to see if there are any comments (unlikely, but one never knows one's luck). 

*This blogger/retired biomedial scientist has an enduring soft spot for UCL, it being where he acquired his MSc degree in Biochemistry, and which he learned a while ago also stores his PhD thesis.

Appendix: the evolving template for AFS -  British style - based on local scavenger birds, gulls, crows etc - not vultures.

The heart of the AFS centre - perches convenient for a centre feeding station . But there had to be some kind of protection against predators, rival ground-based scavengers etc. 

Here's the Seahenge solution, where a (no doubt)  carefully chosen location a short way inland in what is believed to have been a SALT MARSH originally provided the necessary protection.

Note too that at Seahenge there were no gaps between the timber posts, except maybe at an entrance to the inner circle (not shown). The  sizeable number of posts  (some 50) were butted up, a feasible option when the central area is kept relatively small.

Here's the generic template, suited to all locations, inland ones included, one in which there's an outer  "ring of protection". 
 The latter gives the birds a feeling of assurance they can feed safely without having nervously to be looking over their shoulders the whole time


The white toroidal ring can be a ditch, a bank, or a combination of the two, i.e. henge comprising excavated ditch and bank of spoil.

The big advantage of a raised bank is that it acts as a sight-screen. Birds approaching on the wing can see the central feeding table. Ground-based scavengers can't. 

Let's stop here for now, with  Here's a possible prototype for Avebury, Stonehenge, Arbor Low etc, one in which the henge serves as protection (outer or inner bank), with a causewayed access, and, in the case of Stonehenge that causeway facing north-east, so as to illuminate the central enclosure at or shortly after sunrise in the summer months.


We are now one step closer to the upmarket Stonehenge design. Why? Answer: look closely and one can see that lintels have been added, making bridges between the tops of the timber posts, greatly increasing the 'bird-perching capacity'.

Here's the next stage of evolution towards Stonehenge, shown schematically. 
Away with those timber posts, so rustic-looking, so hard to keep clean. Go for something more permanent, namely stone. But it has to be non-porous stone, easy  to keep clean. Oh dear, the local sarsen is porous sandstone. Use bluestone instead (igneous, non-porous dolerite etc). But that means going all the way to west Wales, to a certain location, unless there happens to be some lying around locally.   ;-) Oh well.

Late addition: sky burial site No.11 (Leskernick, Cornwall, UK)

Here, copied and pasted from the (distinctly confusing user-unfriendly) Neolithic Portal site

Leskernick Stone Circles and Stone Row


Messages: 113
from Cornwall Posted 23-05-2016 at 14:48   

Hi All,

Pleased to announce that I have gained permission for the two stone circles and stone row at Leskernick to be excavated by members of my TimeSeekers volunteer clearance group.
We will be clearing the three sites and re-exposing all of the recumbent and buried standing stones and those in the stone row as from early June.
On completion we will carry out a Survey and submit a Field Report and following that an application will be submitted to Schedule the entire site including the adjacent Bronze-Age settlement on Leskernick Hill.



Here's my instant research (being unfamiliar with that particular site) 

( my bolding)

“The settlement is associated with an impressive ceremonial or ritual landscape... In the open moorland to the south-east of the settlement are two stone circles with a large cairn between the two, making an approximately straight alignment; flanking the cairn is a stone row which leads off to the east....    Within the circle but slightly off-centre lies a large whale-back stone, possibly a natural feature but more likely a standing stone that has either fallen or been deliberately laid flat when the circle went out of use. The tallest stones of the circle appear to face uphill towards the settlement which, in this direction, seems to be set at a respectful distance, to better separate the secular from the ritual space. This suggests that the easterly part of the settlement at least is either contemporary with or post-dates the stone circles. In either event the ritual monuments seem to have continued to provide an important symbolic focus.”


Nope. There’s nothing, absolutely nothing symbolic about the stone circle and its “slightly off-centre” large whale-back stone, or as I would say, "feeding table".Sure, it’s “impressive ceremonial or ritual landscape” - if that’s how one wishes to describe a strictly utilitarian ‘sky burial’ site.

Yup, it's almost certainly a SKY BURIAL site.  It ticks the important boxes as regards location, design etc. IT FITS THE TEMPLATE.  

Thanks RoyG for providing example No.11. I bet there's plenty  more where it  came from, being described in somewhat vacuous terms as "ritual" or "symbolic" landscape, while in reality serving a practical down-to- earth function.

I rest my case.

Thursday May 26, 10:50

Google Search truly is the pits as this screen shot from a few minutes ago demonstrates (this blogger having adopted the unique monicker 'sciencebod' some 7 years ago when setting up this site).

This blogger's problems with Google Search go way back -  like finding his original discoveries and content only got seen (at second hand) thanks to repeated  cover versions by another US-based site, renowned for its genteel pirating (and systematic blunting of anti-authenticity message)and  one moreover packed with agenda-driven pro- Shroud authenticity commenters (and fund-raisers).That site is and was invariably near the top of  Page 1 of returns  despite having generated no original research of its own  and having closed down some 5 months ago, taking no further comments).

Yesterday , the above site was languishing on Page 8 of Google UK listings under (shroud of turin) despite my having put over 300 postings onto the web over a 4 year period, culminating in the above. See title: it provides after an intensive programme of hands-on experimentation, a simple solution to the so-called enigma of the  TS image - a contact imprint that after washing survives (just!) as faint 'pseudo-photographic' negative image with 3D-enhancibilty in modern computer software Ingenious medieval forgery ? Yes. Enigmatic 2000 year old image of the founder of Christianity? No..

I repeat Google. You are the pits, seen from this  long-time blogger's perspective. Your entire 'business model',  centred as it is almost assuredly on a post-curated algorithm,  is clearly designed  primarily to serve you and your e-commerce interests. You are anti- the world of ideas (well, the ones that your army of curators see as troublesome or potentially dangerous to your e-commerce interests).

The present posting was shown briefly on a Google search under (stonehenge), initially under "Past Hour", and then, just over an hour later, under "Past 24 hours":

It then suddenly disappeared, shortly after two visits from Google HQ (Mountain Ash) with IP numbers differing only in the final digit being displayed on my sitemeter (saved!) and has not reappeared. How many folk were aware that Google's search results are clearly not based solely as we've been led to believe on an impartial, objective pre-programmed algorithm,  that they are clearly being "curated"  - read CENSORED - by a human being?

Why is this posting, one of the most important I've ever produced in some 10 years of blogging, being CENSORED  for those searching simply under Stonehenge? What right has a search engine to CENSOR my postings based I believe on sound and extensive scholarship?

Update May 27

Screen shot of comment placed on Andy Burnham's Neolithic Portal site:

lick to enlarge

Update: Saturday May 28

This comment has just appeared on Neolithic Portal. 

I shan't be responding to it there, and indeed will be posting no more comments to that 'trainspotters' site, one that's about as far removed from the world of ideas as is possible to imagine.

Here's a detailed and considered reply:

1.There is no vendetta, as will be seen. There is strong disapproval of that site and its response to a NEW theory (I repeat, NEW).

2. When I first requested exposure of my theory on Neolithic Portal, the initial response seemed promising. But I then found my prepared piece wrongly allocated to a “Mystery” category (no, it’s anti-mystery). Worse still, much worse,  it was relegated  to Thiird Division on the page, one that fails to flag up the arrival of new comments. So my request for visibility (denied to me by the commerce-obsessed Google) resulted in near-invisibility.

3. As if that were not bad enough,  dismissive comments appeared  immediately from the site owner and his team saying I was being over- simplistic (no specific reasons given as to why) and that “it’s all been said before” (no links given when challenged to back up that  totally unwarranted, out-or-order assertion).

4. In fact my "sky burial" theory hasn’t been said before, except for Ken West’s article in the Good Funeral Guide and a related pdf, both of which have been acknowledged.  If it has been said before, then it’s totally invisible to the Google search engine, as anyone can confirm for themselves by searching under (stonehenge)  followed by (excarnation) or (sky burial).

5. It’s now 4 years since I first proposed that Neolithic Wiltshire had been a site for excarnation, with the focus initially on pigs, Durrington Walls and Silbury Hill,  So why suggest my views are “tongue in cheek”.  My entirely original thinking on Silbury Hill appeared as a feature not so long ago on the Ancient-Origins site, with neither editors nor commentators suggesting my views were “tongue in cheek”.  Show me where I have given the slightest hint that I don’t wish to be taken too seriously.

6. The problem I have, with Google, and now Neolithic Portal, is that neither seems to understand that I am deadly serious in regarding most if not all stone circles, Avebury and Stonehenge included,  as purpose-built sites for soul-liberating pre-Christian Neolithic or Bronze Age sky burial. Yes, they remove some of the (money-spinning) mystery, but not all.

7. Google simply fails to list my postings, or even my “Sussing Stonehenge and Silbury Hill ...   "  SITE , see link below,  which appears nowhere in a Google search for either of those two locations.
Here's the site Google doesn't want you to know about when searching under "stonehenge" OR "silbury hill"

    Now contrast with the no-new-ideas, have-your-credit-card ready Neolithic Portal site which appears on Page 3 of returns for Silbury Hill, and Page 8 for Stonehenge.

8. Why is Google ignoring me? Answer: because unlike Neolithic Portal I am not plugged into its manic e-commerce network of click-and-pay. I exist purely to disseminate new and dare one say uninhibited, non-sensibility sparing thinking re excarnation (Yes. NEW).

9. So why is Neolithic Portal so keen to marginalize me and my NEW thinking? Answers on a postcard please,

10. If those folk at Neolithic Portal  were to desist from sitting in judgement on those whom they haven’t met and don’t know, and in all probability have merely skimmed one's extensive output,  in this instance over 4 years, then maybe they wouldn’t be so ready to bandy around their dismissive putdowns, far less make the kind of character attack that is implied by  casual deployment of  term “vendetta”. Outspoken criticism of that site and its modus operandi is not, repeat NOT, a personal vendetta. As for Google,  my unflattering views  are based on some 10 years of close observation as a blogger. I have nothing personally to gain, and possibly a lot to lose, by deciding to air them at this time, while the Google gun is still smoking. (Yes, I  and my sitemeter are monitoring all your visits Google. If you can’t be bothered to list my non-commercial sites in simple search returns ("Stonehenge", "Silbury Hill" etc ) and indeed continue to blacklist them, then kindly quit snooping around).

Each time you click on one of those Google ads in your search returns, the placer of that ad gets charged 10p, whether you purchase or not.

The central 'altar stone' at Stonehenge (see Comments). This blogger suspects that the longitudinal groove was made as a recess into which to place a stout pole, or even dozens of bound canes, securely tied in place by multiple windings of rope or netting. Why? As an aid to human transport - from Wales! That central yoke would then have been the basis for a larger framework that allowed scores, probably hundreds of carriers to be inserted.

(Note too the handly notch on the right - ideal for making a non-slip attachment point for rope etc).

Late correction:  No, wikipedia. You have got it wrong. That photo does NOT show the Altar Stone. The latter is largely below ground, with just the top surface visible (and  largely obscured by two fallen  trilithon stones, one of which you have  shown). 
So what does the 50 or so page English Heritage guide to Stonehenge have to say about the Altar Stone? Answer: precious little. It's not even labelled on the introductory diagram (unlike the Heel  Stone, Slaughter Stone and Station Stone) nor is it so much as hinted there is a centrepiece stone, i.e. a focal point for everything else. And here, wait for it, is the text in its entirety relating to the Altar Stone:

Finally, at the closed end of the innermost horseshoe, in the shadow of the tallest trilithon and now partly buried between its fallen upright, lies a stone known  as the Altar Stone. This is the largest of the non-sarsen stones, a greenish sandstone from south Wales.
Er, yes, do please continue EH...   No? Is that all? Tell me EH, do you have some kind of problem with that Altar Stone?  Don't tell me that you too are into the business of 'curating out'... Isn't that Altar stone where a body would have been laid out for the benefit of the waiting birds, perched safe and sound, out of harm's way, on those high lintels?

18:30 Saturday May 28

Hallelujah!  This posting has finally reappeared on Page 7 under a Google Curate search for (stonehenge), Past Week, having appeared briefly on Monday (Past 24hrs) and then  disappearing from sight. Will it make it to the Past Month listing in two days time, or again be 'curated out'. We shall see.

Update: Monday May 30

It's exactly a week since I put up this posting, and no, it did not transfer from Google's listing under Stonehenge, Past Week to Past Month. In fact, it appeared only briefly under Past Week before disappearing completely off Google's radar screen. I would recommend a visit to Wikipedia's page on "Search Engines" to see what it says about the various filters and bubbles that are now an intrinsic part of Google Curate. But if you're not on Google, you might as well not exist, to quote the old internet saw.

So where does this blogger go from here? There's no point putting up new postings, with new data that may or may not support the BIg Idea (yes. let's not hide lights under bushels - the notion that standing stones, especially in circles, implies Neolithic  Brit-style 'sky burial' has to be regarded as a Big  Game-Changing Idea). What the tourists will think is anyone's guess!

But if I keep adding material here, this posting becomes too long and intimidating to a new visitor scrolling down. So what's the solution?  Watch this space. (Back to now cleaning the patio stones. Forget about proprietary algicides, by the way - they are a waste of time and money. Get yourself some thick bleach, paint it on, cover with a polythene sheet and leave for three or more hours. When you return you will have pristine-looking slabs without a trace of sooty black discoloration to be seen!).

Foretaste of my new strategy: goto  this posting on my specialist Stonehenge/Silbury Hill site. Scroll down to the end. Note the added "Archive". I will be discussing the first three pix, added just a short while ago, from a splendid paper by Jenny Cataroche and Rebecca Gowland,  purchased online  this morning I might add, describing their findings re cremated bone at a Guernsey site.

Update: Tuesday, May 31 2016

Yup, can't believe my good fortune in discovering this gold mine of a paper:

"Flesh, fire and funerary remains from the Neolithic site of La Varde, Guernsey:Investigations past and present"  authored by the two researchers named above.

It's one a several papers in a volume edited by Prof.Tim Thompson of Teesside University, Middlesborough, entitled: "The Archaeology of Cremation, Burned Human Remains in Funerary Studies. (Certain pages are available for free on Google Books).

Why am I so elated? Because those two ladies set out evidence from museum specimens of bones from the impressive Passage Tomb at La Varde, adjacent to a golf course, that they were (a) cremated bone and, guess what, DE-FLESHED by some means (unspecified) prior to cremation.

Quote from their paper (my underlining):

"Very few of the burnt bones/fragments were oxidized to white and none showed evidence of the shrinkage, deformation or curved U-shaped fissuring that typically signal the high intensity burning of fleshed bodies (refs). Detectable fractures were in all cases linear, and transverse splintering was noted in several of the larger fragments (ref to Fig). These are features typically seen in cases where ‘dry’ bones have been burnt subsequent to the total, or near-total, decomposition of the soft tissues (refs).Rather than indicating standard cremation this evidence argues in favour of one or more burning events, in which the bones of deceased individuals were burnt post mortem and once decomposition was at a very advanced stage".

On reading the paper, I made two predictions, first that there would be a stone circle near that tomb (there being no mention of that in the paper) and second, there might be pitting or pock marks on those bones suggestive of having been picked at pre-cremation by scavenger birds.

What do I find? There is indeed a small stone circle just 30 feet from the tomb, which even gets a passing mention in a BBC feature on the site.

Second, there is indeed pitting on a photograph of a bone in the  Cataroche/Gowland paper. It's labelled "Archive 3" on my other site (see link above). OK, that pitting could be the result of something other than the beaks of birds, but that's not the key issue right now. In applying the scientific method, one's hypotheses should be accompanied by predictions. I've made  two that are both borne out. The problem would have been if either had not been confirmed, NOT that there might be alternative explanations...

I look forward to hearing the views of the three aforementioned 'cremation' experts before adding more to this already overlong posting. I'm attaching just enough to give a flavour of what is turning out to be one of the most exciting research projects that I have ever tackled. Yes, with stone circles as sites for sky burial one is (amazingly) stumbling upon virgin territory  where academic research is concerned. How different that is (and refreshing) from this blogger's 4 year sojourn in Turin Shroud research where, from the word go,  one found oneself up against determined opposition, intent on silencing one from the outset. . (Don't expect to find me on an entry level  Google search under "shroud of turin", but add extra terms like "white flour" or "oven-roasted" or "wet linen" and my final imprinting flour-assisted scorch model then appears as if by magic. Four years work, hundreds, yes HUNDREDS of postings, but  I'm still below Google's radar on a simple (shoud of turin) search. There be something rotten in the state of Denmark California, but as to how and why - well, there are some tentative conclusions emerging from my ongoing research, ones that reveal some interesting  inconsistencies when I compare Google Curate Search with another search engine whose selling point is that it does NOT tamper with   curate or otherwise 'filter' the results to meet perceived interests.).

Here's the latest pile of steaming manure from Google:

Observe the terms I entered into the search box, highlighted in yellow: (stonehenge debitage flint sharpening) .

Now notice the first three returns, all of which have  scored out my first two search terms, a crass and shameless ruse for substituting modern day commercial products for a historical enquiry.

This is just laughable. Google is supposed to be a search engine, the premier search engine on the entire planet. Yet here it is, thowing one's search terms back in one's face, inserting covert e-commerce.

Update, June 1, 2016

I've decided to change the title of this posting. It was originally:

"It's time to get real about Stonehenge and other stone circles - based on their affinity with the 'Seahenge' template"

Yup, too long, and arguably too nerdish, but it was chosen to let folk in gently to the 'excarnation' role of Stonehenge, on the assumption that the posting would be visible in Google Search under STONEHENGE (pure and simple). But given it's now abundantly clear that my posting has been de-listed by Google Curate, with little doubt in this blogger's mind as to the reasons why,  then there's no need any longer to pussyfoot around.

The new title, as of today, is simply:

It's time to get real about Stonehenge - Britain's premier 'SKY BURIAL' site

Quote from Godfather 4:
"Que? My predecessors' way of doing things is over, it's finished. Even they know that. I mean, in five years the Google Family is going to be completely illegitimate. Distrust me. That's all I can tell you about my business..."

Update: October 7,  2016

There's an article in today's Times (paywall!) about the standing stones of Calanais (Isle of Lewis, Hebrides, Scotland) to which I've just posted the following comment (it remains to be seen how long it takes to clear the Times's irksome insistence on premoderation):

Colin Berry 25 minutes ago

There's a simple straightforward explanation for Calanais, Stonehenge, 'Seahenge' and all those other Neolithic standing stones or timbers, and it's now't to do with those 'ritual landscapes' so beloved of the grant-hungry archaeological establishment forever spinning their waffly fantasies.

They were quite simply sites for naturalistic disposal of the dead via 'sky burial', aka excarnation via scavenger birdlife,  or as I prefer to call it, AFS (avian-facilitated skeletonization). The stone or timber pillars or poles served as perches where the birds (probably adaptable gulls for the most part) could feel safe and secure from ground-based predators. AFS was often followed by cremation of the partially excarnated bones (why else would the buried bones at Stonehenge and elsewhere be CREMATED bone?).

(See most recent postings).

See also the latest posting on this investigator's other major interest, namely the Shroud of Turin, with the now highly-developed flour/oil imprinting model, first discovered some 2 years ago.

And here's a more recent one, posted April 7, 2017, with a somewhat cheeky title:

"STURP: Space-age Technology Unleashing Religious Propaganda"

Update: Thur Feb 8, 2018

Back to those stone circles, Stonehenge etc:

Have just this minute added this comment in reply to Neil Wiseman on Tim Daw’s site.
It’s a summary of my belief that Stonehenge represents the technological pinnacle of Neolithic’s Britain’s pragmatic adoption of avian facilitated skeletonization (aka excarnation, aka “sky burial”) as a preliminary to final bone cremation. (NB: bone, as distinct from whole body cremation!)
1. Causewayed enclosure- multifunctional, being demarcation of homestead territory, with funeral facility at one end, pushed to one side, probably screened, maybe whole body cremation with or without prior excarnation via different methods one can only guess at.
2. Henges – first step towards specialized avian facilitated skeletonization, just one means of arm’s length excarnation, with ‘artificial white cliffs’ designed to attract voracious gulls from afar; north-east opening ensures the interior is brighty illuminated at or shortly after sunrise. Central ‘altar’. (Forget those summer and winter solstices, good idea initially but all-too-typical unscientific failure to follow through with critical corroborative evidence, science merging imperceptibly into pseudoscience – then hand-me-down dogma).
3. Arguably henge-like circles of stone in the Golan Heights (Rujm-el-Hiri, “Stonehenge of the Levant” ) also suggested to play an excarnation role.
4. The Seahenge model, isolated coastal salt marsh, serial use over years or decades – too meticulously-built and isolated to be regarded as a one-off funeral of a celebrity figure (Sorry Tim). Inverted tree stump arguably much too large and unwieldy for a single offering.
5. Addition of multiple timber posts to henges, sometimes circles but not always (so one should not rush into alignment with sun and solstices, or moon either). Regard the posts as perches for gulls and/or other voracious avian species, albeit a less than efficient scavenger than the continental vulture..
6. Addition of structures like that close to Durrington Walls (“Countess Farm”/”mortuary house”/ “house of dead”) – multiple posts within screened dwelling – arguably no roof – again a site for specialized AFS (excarnation arguably too non-specific a term given the different agents – microorganisms, birds, rodents, foxes, wolves and other land-based carnivores, man-made flints and knives ).
7. Replacement of timber posts at Stonehenge initially with modest-size bluestone pillars, later the taller sarsens, circles of standing stones at other sites – from Avebury as far north as the Orkneys. Were they too for sophisticated, some might say precocious/anachronistic astronomical purposes? Evidence?
8. Perch-like stone structures at the ancient Turkish site (Gobekli Tepe, S.E. Anatolia) with engravings that include vultures.
9. Silbury Hill – manual pre-excarnation (heart only?) and interment under individual mini-sarsen markers.
10. Durrington winter feasting on young (8 month old pigs). Pre-excarnation (i.e. unfussy animal omnivore mediated )?
11. Burials of cremated bones (not whole bodies) at Guernsey site, with nearby stone-circle.
12. Out-of-area coastal lichens still resident of Stonehenge stones. Evidence for coastal cliff-edge gulls having migrated inland, probably tracking up the (Hampshire) Avon river.
13. Stonehenge’s transoms (i.e. cross-pieces, aka lintels) the technological peak of Neolithic avian-assisted excarnation (aka pre-cremation skeletonization) – provided ideal bird perches, offering security, space etc.
14. No astronomical engravings on Stonehenge stones, as might be expected (or demanded as corroborating evidence in support of what is otherwise a poorly defended hypothesis). But there are representations of metal-cast daggers and axeheads (presumably Bronze Age) suggestive of some kind of attack on flesh (pre- or postmortem?).
15. Possibility that Stonehenge was periodically chalked and re-chalked to make and keep it a gleaming white landscape feature, which together with henge bank and walls increased its gull-attracting properties.

Update: Feb 13 2018

Here are two snapshots I took May 2012 at Stonehenge. (They are needed to accompany my compromise proposal for  screening the site from the A303 (most direct  route from London to Devon and Cornwall) which I'll flag up first to Timothy Daw's site).

Traffic coming down the slope towards Stonehenge from London direction

See how close the A303 road is to the Stonehenge site. (Is it any wonder that drivers slow down and gawp, creating tailbacks?)

Addendum: March 16, 2018

 I've decided to add this latest image of mine as an update  to ALL my Stonehenge postings (some 24 in all, here and on my specialist Stonehenge site). Why not – since it’s my considered answer to the ‘mystery’ of the monument’s peculiar architecture, the conclusion to some 6 years of  deliberation?

I say Stonehenge was designed as a giant bird perch, a ceremonial monument dedicated to ‘sky burial’, i.e. soul release from mortal remains to the heavens via AFS (avian-facilitated skeletonization, considered the height of fashion (and practicality) in Neolithic-era 2500BC! The stripped remains were then cremated, so an apt description of Stonehenge might, as previously suggested, be PRE-CREMATORIUM.

The sills of the inner 5 trilithons have been colour-coded yellow, while pink has been used to partially colour-code the outer stone circle (believed to have once been continuous as shown in this artist's impression from an English Heritage site). In addition to the colour-coding, I've also added a token gull (sorry it's upside down!).