Sunday, February 21, 2021

An entirely new explanation for Woodhenge - and probably the initial Stonehenge too: a protective enclosure for livestock when coming under arrow attack

 This posting, over a year since the "last" on this blogsite, is intended simply to stake this retired academic's  claim for an entirely new "take" on Woodhenge (and with it the original Stonehenge too!).

Here's a modern-day photograph, borrowed from a farming website (link later) -  one that conveys the gist of the new thinking.

Oops. the caption is only partly visible. I'll try fixing later. For now, here's the caption separately:

Relevance to Woodhenge?  See the wiki entry on Woodhenge. I've attached an  abbreviated version I've added below. 

So what's the new idea?  

Answer: the folk who decided to settle in and around Salisbury Plain were farmers by trade, keeping a range of grazing animals (cattle, sheep, pigs etc). They periodically came under attack from the indigenous population of hunter-gathers, looking to supplement their intake of meat. Which weapons would the attackers have deployed? Answer: flint-head spears and (especially) ARROWS. 

So what would have been the sensible response on the part of the farmers? Answer: retreat behind a timber stockade with livestock. Attach the livestock to timber support posts towards the centre of the structure where the animals would have been largely shielded from arrows.

No, Woodhenge (and probably later Stonehenge too) had nothing whatsoever to do with solstice celebration. There were other reasons for the NE opening into both Woodhenge and Stonehenge. (In the case of the first, the opening was in the direction of the nearby River Avon, offering some protection from arrow or other attack from that direction).

More to follow in due course. (I am thinking of creating a new blogsite, dedicated mainly to Woodhenge as the likely clue as to the real purpose of Stonehenge, at keast as originally conceived).

Abbreviated version of the wiki entry on Woodhenge:

   "Woodhenge is a Neolithic henge and timber circle monument within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site in Wiltshire, England. It is 2 miles north-east of Stonehenge.

The site consists of six concentric oval rings of postholes, the outermost being about 141 by 131 ft wide. They are surrounded  first by a single flat-bottomed ditch, 7.9 ft deep and up to 39 ft wide, and finally by an outer bank, about 33 ft wide and 3.3 ft high. With an overall diameter measuring (360 ft) (including bank and ditch), the site had a single entrance to the north-east. 

Most of the 168 post holes held wooden posts, although Cunnington found evidence that a pair of standing stones may have been placed between the second and third post hole rings. Excavations in 2006 indicated that there were at least five standing stones on the site, arranged in a "cove". The deepest post holes measured up to 6.6 ft and are believed to have held posts which reached as high as 25 ft above ground. Those posts would have weighed up to 5 tons, and their arrangement was similar to that of the bluestones at Stonehenge. 

Further comparisons with Stonehenge were quickly noticed by Cunnington: both have entrances oriented approximately to the midsummer sunrise, and the diameters of the timber circles at Woodhenge and the stone circles at Stonehenge are similar.

Over 40 years after the discovery of Woodhenge, another timber circle of comparable size was discovered in 1966, 230 ft to the north. Known as the Southern Circle, it lies inside what came to be known as the Durrington Walls henge enclosure.

There are various theories about possible timber structures that might have stood on and about the site, and their purpose, but it is likely that the timbers were free-standing, rather than part of a roofed structure.  For many years, the study of Stonehenge had overshadowed work on the understanding of Woodhenge. Recent ongoing investigations as part of the Stonehenge Riverside Project are now starting to cast new light on the site and on its relationship with neighbouring sites and Stonehenge.

One suggestion is that the use of wood rather than stone may have held a special significance in the beliefs and practices involving the transformation between life and death,  possibly separating the two sites into separate "domains".  These theories have been supported by findings of bones of butchered pigs exclusively at Woodhenge, showing evidence of feasting, leaving Stonehenge as a site only inhabited by ancestral spirits, not living people. "


Here's a diagram of the Woodhenge site with its 168 postholes that has been erected in the actual location. Note the 6 concentric rings aka ovals of timber posts (albeit some fainter scarcely-visible  ones).  Note the outermost ring that constitute what I have term a stockade/palisade. (Will decide later which of those two is the better description!)

                                                               Diagram of  Woodhenge

Update: Tuesday Feb 23, 2021

See today's article by Callum Hoare in the Daily Express, summarising the new ideas developed  - and communicated in short order - by ... guess who?

Yup, your truly...  😊


Update, Friday 26 Feb

The thinking on my "livestock defence" model for  Phase 1 Stonehenge, aka proto-Stonehenge, has expanded these last few days to include the site's forerunners, near and far.

I'll provide only the briefest of summaries here, being totally disillusioned, nay despairing of the internet as a means of getting one's ideas into the public domain.

Here are a mere handful of sentences to summarise the gist of the broader thinking.

Initially there were the so-called "causewayed enclosures" scattered across continental Europe and England. The key feature was the external ditch, together with the inner bank. The combination served to create a fortress - not just for human defenders - but t primarily to protect livestock as well, either at settlements or further afield.

But a rethink became necessary, once attackers armed themselves with bows and flint-tipped arrows. They could rain their arrows down from a distance, such that the outer ditch ceased to be an initial impediment. That's when the henge evolved in England - constructed in the reverse order, with an outer bank and an inner ditch - the bank protecting both occupants and livestock against arrows, short-range especially..

Stonehenge we're told began as a causewayed enclosure - i.e. the classical defensive configuration, but was then provided with an outer bank - albeit incomplete, converting it to henge configuration.  A circular  ring of 56 holes was then added, just inside the inner bank, being used to house timber posts initially, i.e. a defensive palisade, maybe installing more substantial bluestones later, albeit in temporary locations, being uprooted later and shifted elsewhere.  Timber posts were then installed within the enclosure to act as further shielded/defensive tethering points for livestock.

See the wiki entries on:

(a) causewayed enclosures

The separate internet pdf on the Crickley Hill hilltop enclosure  near Cheltenham is especially illuminating, given the reference to 400 or so flint arrow heads retrieved from the site:

(b) the later henges, specific  by and large to England:

Repeat: I say that Phase 1 Stonehenge was intended mainly for protection of precious livestock against enemy assault, especially when  the latter were armed with bows and flint-tipped arrows

Update: Saturday Feb 27

Have finally (phew!) figured out - I believe - the purpose of the mysterious so-called Aubrey Holes at Stonehenge, a short way in toward the centre from the main  (original inner) embankment.

Why were those 56 equally-spaced holes (aka pits - a more accurate description)  installed  (whether to accommodate timber or stone posts) in the first instance? Why were the pits then cleared out,  refilled with chalk etc., only to be used again(?). Thus far a complete mystery, by all accounts.

Answer?  Simple. The Aubrey Holes/Pits were used to house/accommodate temporary tether points for livestock whenever the enclosure came under arrow attack. Livestock would be quickly shifted from the centre to the lee of the embankment, i.e. offering  effective shelter. 

Maybe the tether post would be moved at the same time as the animal, dropping  the post into a suitably-situated vacant hole or pit, choosing  the best-situated from a complete circuit of post holes. Later, when the threat had receded, the animal AND its tether post would/could  be moved back to the centre of the enclosure.

We're getting there, methinks, ever so, ever so gradually.  :-)

Reminder of  my specialist site title: "Sussing Stonehenge".  (See elsewhere - a report of an 8 year learning curve, amply provided with wrong turnings - such is the nature of science!)

Forget that romantic fixation with "solstice celebration" on the longest and/or shortest day of the year. Neolithic herdsmen had more important things on their mind - like defending their precious livestock against surprise raids from the local hunter-gatherers, ensconced within nearby woodland!

Update: Sunday Feb 28

Have been wondering if or how the 4 Station Stones can be fitted in to the arrow-defence model for early(ish) Stonehenge.

Here's a graphic I've pinched from the English Heritage Tourist Guide, which I purchased on site in 2012 (same year I created my specialist Stonehenge website). I've signposted each of the  4 Station Holes with red/white arrows:

Yes, there is a way they can be accommodated.

What you see above is labelled "The Early Stone Phase" in which the circles of outer "Aubrey Holes" proposed as temporary tether points for  bank-sheltering of livestock were replaced with central stones (arranged in the above diagram as a double arc). 

That meant that the livestock need not be moved if/when enemy arrows come streaming in - the stone columns providing adequate protection. 

So why the need for those 4 Station Holes? 

 Brainwave: many of the livestock were cattle - a mix of cows and bulls. 

But one only needs a few bulls to serve their essential role in breeding livestock. (Bulls would have been the trickier of the two sexes to shift at short notice from centre to periphery.) 

Answer: restrict one's  cattle herd to just 4 bulls maximum, keeping them permanently tethered  to those sturdy sarsen posts in their Station Holes in the outer (i.e. safer) near-bank location  (where the chances of being struck by arrows were essentially zilch).

Addendum (still Feb 28)

Here's the graphic supplied by English Heritage on the following page for the nascent stone circle at Stonehenge at its  more highly-developed "Late Stone Stage".

Two of the 4 "station posts"  - marked with blue/white arrows - have now been supplied with individual encircling ditches. One can only guess as to why it's only 2 of 4. But it's not hard to see why the two were supplied with the circular ditches in the livestock model. The ditches confined  two of my proposed  tethered bulls to a restricted area around its individual tether post!


Tomorrow's update:  have suddenly remembered that arrows got a mention on this site, way, way back in May of 2012.

But it was in connection with PIGS (at Durrington Walls, some 3 km NE of Stonehenge), not, repeat NOT Stonehenge, not cattle.

Those pigs, and the circumstances in which they were slain by arrows, will be the subject of tomorrow's update!

But here  - by way of clue as to what is to come -  is a screen-grab of the relevant section from my 2012 posting (the latter being early-days 90% claptrap!):

Update: March 2, 2021

Here's the Addendum 3  - highlighted in blue - on that May 19 posting from 2012, with the final word on that alleged "winter-feasting " on  "arrow-slaughtered pigs": Note especially what I've highlighted with in red

  Addendum 3 ...

"    "The village was shown to be about 4,600 years old, the same age as Stonehenge and as old as the pyramids in Egypt. The village is less than 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from Stonehenge and lies inside a massive manmade circular earthwork, or “henge,” known as Durrington Walls.

Remains found at the site included jewelry, stone arrowheads, tools made of deer antlers, and huge amounts of animal bones and broken pottery. These finds suggest Stone Age people went to the village at special times of the year “to feast and party,” says Mike Parker Pearson from Sheffield University in England.

He said many of the pig bones they found had been thrown away half-eaten. He also said the partygoers appeared to have shot some of the farm pigs with arrows, possibly as a kind of sport before barbecuing them.

No. I say that the wrong conclusions have been drawn from the archaeological evidence! The pigs were NOT slaughtered with 'sport-fired' arrows for winter feasting. 

They were victims of arrow-onslaught from outside. The marauding invaders then stormed and entered the enclosure, filling their bellies quickly  on the dead and dying livestock (after quick roasting of carcases)  throwing away their bones - plus  much uneaten meat -  in the process!

No, not winter-feasting on the part of site occupants, but winter-feasting on the part of successful site invaders! 

Update: Wed March 3, 2021

Hey. Guess what? Callum Hoare has penned another article on Stonehenge for the Express. 

                      Express Home Page, Wed March 3, 2021 - see the article on Stonehenge bottom right:

The focus is initially on Mike Parker-Pearson - the distinguished archaeology prof who recently made the fascinating link between the Waun Mawn circle of standing bluestones on the Preseli Hills (or rather, what's left of them!) and proto-Stonehenge. The prof maintains those 80 or so bluestones, with geology matching an extraction point just 3 miles away to the north-east, were lugged via human transport all the way to Salisbury Plain. I agree wholeheartedly!  (Where the two of us might differ is the purpose those stones may have served not only at destination, but additionally en route!)

But guess who gets lengthy quotes towards the end of the article?  Yup, yours truly, that "retired scientist and academic"!

No mention as yet of 8 or 9 years posting online to the internet - a scientific, often self-debunking learning curve - an attempt to edge closer and closer to the truth via detailed critical scrutiny and natural elimination. Never mind. One can't expect the world to fall into one's lap immediately - not where the MSM is concerned!

Update: Thursday March 4, 2021

Yes, have had a brand new insight as regards late Neolithic era stone circles - with Stonehenge representing the grandest manifestation of all - but still serving the same practical purpose - at least initially. (And what was that you may ask?  Answer: a compact, well protected place within which to tether and feed one's precious livestock, especially cattle - cows and a few bulls. Well protected from what?  Initially, raids by hunter-gathers, crossing the outer ditch and inner bank of the Mark1 pre-standing stone causewayed enclosure. Later, they initiated their attack from a safe distance, archers firing off volleys of their then new-fangled flint-tipped arrows.).

I shall now switch to using my specialist Stonehenge site, putting this one on the back-burner. But the "suss" site is in need of a total revamp, having received what I described a year ago as its Final Model 3! 

(Shortly-to-be-revamped Home Page of my sussingstonehenge  stops-and-starts learning-curve blogsite)

 Oops. I spoke too soon. Model 4 and now 5 have arrived, with standing stones serving normally as a tether point for wander-constrained livestock, with  that added protection for livestock and their herdsmen against ENEMY ARROWS!

#  Update: March 7, 2021:

Here's a screen grab with the new posting that has been placed on my specialist Stonehenge site (the topic now widened to include Neolithic stone circles in general - plus timber forerunners):

Link to the above posting.

And here's the final conclusion  (apols for the prelim. cartoon version) reached at the end of the above posting as regards the true role of Stonehenge, notably those trilithons - with their two massive stone uprights and an equally massive bridging lintel:



Appendix: I have the impressive Homestead Bloggers Site to thank for providing my summary graphic of the tethered cow.

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