Archive for October, 2012

What Laser Scans have revealed at Stonehenge

October 10th, 2012 No comments


ArcHeritage/English Heritage

Revelations about Stonehenge continue apace, with the news that laser scans have revealed 72 previously unknown Early Bronze Age carvings chipped into five of the giant stones.

Moreover many of these carvings are of Bronze Age axes.  The initial response – by among others The Independent, who covered the story – was that ‘the axe-heads – the vast majority of the images – may have been engraved as votive offerings to placate a storm deity and thus protect crops.’

As always, whenever anyone reaches for a ‘ceremonial’ or ritual explanation in archaeology it is wise to be careful.

One should remember that bronzes axes were neither purely functional or military, let alone ceremonial, in Bronze Age culture; they were often used as currency, to be bartered for other goods.  There are many reasons why the symbol of the axe may have had such a great attraction for the builders of Stonehenge: as a symbol of wealth, or of the great clearance of the forests which they were embarking on;  or simply as a potent icon, in the same way that they celebrated horses on their coins and at the White Horse of Uffington.

Very few such Bronze Age depictions of axes have been uncovered elsewhere in Britain;  those few that have were often associated with funerary monuments, which would match with the recent work done on the sacred landscape that surrounds Stonehenge by Mike Pearson Smith (who uncovered a henge at the river Avon nearby).

These are not the first axes to be noticed at Stonehenge. A few can still be made out on the surface without the need for a laser scan, and were listed in the 1950s. But in the past they have always been considered a rather marginal aspect of the site.  This new discovery, showing them there in such quantities, puts them more centre stage.

Those who wish to go straight to source on this fascinating story should read the full report which very helpfully has been put online by English Heritage:  among other details, it also confirms the long-held suspicion that many of the stones have been removed over the years.  Rather than being an unfinished site – as many have suggested since the very first investigations of the 18th century – it is a vandalised site.

Those who think the only good thing ever to happen to Stonehenge was to be in Spinal Tap might instead enjoy the Daily Mash’s Experts close to discovering secret pointlessness of Stonehenge.


The Real Enemy of the Coral Reef

October 2nd, 2012 No comments


An excellent piece in the Independent shows how the true enemy of the coral reef is not climate change – although of course this is a contributory factor – but a particular coral eating starfish.

I had a wonderful time a couple of years ago snorkelling off the Belize coral reef, the longest in the Western Hemisphere and one of the most unspoilt in the world;  Charles Darwin described it as ‘the most remarkable reef in the West Indies’.


I had snorkelled before, off Bonaire in the Dutch Antilles which has some of the best walk-in snorkelling in the world. But this was altogether more satisfying, slipping from the side of a sailing boat into some nameless section of the reef, and seeing one’s fellow passengers transformed into weightless and floating mer-folk swimming with the fishes.


And what fishes:  large shoals of blue tang floating over and around the elkhorn coral;  yellow snapper and the striped school-master fish;  Nassau groupers and the odd pork fish as loners within the group;  a peacock flounder near the bottom.  And then the sting rays, swimming in majesty and leisure, or burrowing down into the sand, the best possible reason never to rest your flipper on the seabed if you could possibly help it.


At one point I felt someone swimming along beside me and turned to see which member of the group it might be, only to find a spotted eagle ray calmly keeping pace at almost arms length, the largest of the stingrays after the manta.


Much of the reef was still healthy compared to some of the deterioration that coral had experienced worldwide as sea temperatures rose.  But there was still a sense of elegy, a feeling that if I returned in ten, twenty, let alone another thirty years time I might not be able to see delicate blue damselfish nibbling around the polyps, the fan coral waving in the current or the squiggles of brain coral clustered on the bottom.