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Wednesday, 11 August 2010

After Devizes...

After Devizes I drove to Avebury, even with all the rain -it had been raining hard all day- the car park was still three quarters full. I was making use of my free parking (NT member you see) and I wanted to go to the shop and buy the labyrinth pendant I'd seen there a few days ago, and Avebury is always a good place to go.

This trip had been nagging at me for weeks it seems, the need to finally read what Maud Cunnington had actually seen, to go and read  from her notes; it had become almost unbearable not to go and so on Sunday I'd visited Avebury and Woodhenge armed with compass, my family and Vado (little video camera)...but on Tuesday I drove to Devizes alone for a full two hours of bliss to read the excavation notes and to find out exactly what Maud had considered relevant or not, concerning the child found at the center of the ring.

It is strange....I mean Maud found two skeletons; the central burial is described in her notes here:
[Cunnington 1926. Page 13] A small grave was found lying on the line of midsummer sunrise, and at right angles to it. This grave, with slightly rounded ends, was only a foot deep in the chalk. In the Southern end, the grave being unnecessarily large for a burial, lay the crouched skeleton of a child of about three years old. Owing to the decayed condition of the bones, many of them having disappeared all together, it was difficult to determine the exact position, but the body was turned towards the North-East i.e., to the rising sun at midsummer.

It will be seen from the plan that the line of sunrise falls across the Southern end of the grave, across the center of the burial, though not through the center of the grave.

A remarkable circumstance in connection with the skeleton is that the skull appears to have been cleft before burial. When the bones were first uncovered it was exclaimed "There must be two skeletons" because there appeared to be two skulls lying side by side, touching one another. But when the bones were removed they proved to be those of only one individual, and what looked like two skulls were actually the two halves of the same skull. It is a common thing to find a skull crushed in the ground, but there seems no way of accounting for its being found lying in two parts, unless it had been cleft before burial.The other bones, though much decayed, were found lying in their natural order, and there was no sign to suggest that the grave had ever been disturbed. It appears probable, therefore, that this child's burial was in the nature of a dedicatory, or sacrificial one. No relics of any kind were found with the skeleton.
Maud is quite convinced that she has found a murdered infant and yet in the case of the second skeleton, his grave remains unremarked upon and unmarked today. I find it hard to see why Maud who was in a world in which dedicatory human sacrifice is a possibility, didn't consider the body found crouched in a ditch to be more of the same?

Here is the description of the second find:
[Cunnington 1926. Page 82] The crouched skeleton of a young man was found in a shallow grave dug in the middle of the floor of the ditch in this cutting. The skeleton lay on its side with head towards the South, facing East, arms crossed over the chest with hands up to the shoulders. The grave was length wise with the ditch: sixteen inches deep, four and a half foot long and two and a half foot wide. It was filled with pure chalk rubble, distinct from the silting in the ditch immediately above it, and must therefore, have been filled up before silting had accumulated on the floor of the ditch. On the bottom of the grave on the Eastern side, just in front of the skeleton were: a vertebrae, a rib bone, three teeth and part of another large bone, all of ox.
Maud implies that the burial has taken place at the time the ditch is being dug, or soon after its completion -an excavation in 2006 found that a part of the bank (and the bank was raised from the chalk dug from the ditch) overlay a tree hole which had been filled with Early Neolithic Carinated ware- but she dismisses this find as contemporary because the anatomist charged with examining the bones said:
[Cunnington 1926. Page 52] He has not the face form of our Neolithic people nor the head form of the Bronze Age people, therefore I think we are compelled to place him in the Iron Age.
This skeleton belonged to the man I'd mentioned before (and had a nightmare about) who had odd bones, some fused some not, and too many teeth, as he had not lost his milk teeth. In other words there is compelling evidence to suggest that he had 'odd' bones anyway so even without getting into a discussion about the probability of indigenous Britons as an isolated and self-contained race until the Beaker people came along, how sensible is it to decide that this man could not have been British because he didn't have 'the face form of our Neolithic people'?

The anatomist was Sir Arthur Keith, and you can download is book on Nationality and Race From An Anthropologists Point Of View here: [LINK]

It is Sir Arthur who tentatively suggests that the 'sacrificial child is female:
I may in a few words dispose of the skeleton of the child found in the center of the circle. From the fact that all milk teeth are in use and also the crown of the first permanent molars are formed, one may place the age at three and a half years.

The condition and size of the cranial bones (only parts of which were found) and also the limb bones, are in keeping with this estimate. From the size of the teeth and limb bones one infers the remains are those of a girl -but this is not an inference which should be too much depended on. The upper end of the shaft of the femur already shows the front to back flattening and the tibia the side flattening which is so often seen in skeletons of Bronze Age people -but in earlier as well as latter people of Britain.
Sir Arthur does not say that there are any signs of fractures in the skull bones, all he says is that some of the cranial bones are missing...

When I first visited her tomb, many years ago now, I was filled with sorrow and horror. It didn't matter to me that her body had been removed and her bones lost, or even if the archaeologists had been wrong; I believed that somewhere at sometime a mother had allowed this terrible thing to happen to her daughter in the name of religion.

I thought of Abraham and Isaac and how wrong people can be...for I'd been brought up on stories of the stupidity of war, on Siegfried Sassoon and stories of people who refused to do what they were told...

I find now that my sadness evoked by the Woodhenge site has settled on the missing grave of the man in the ditch....for Maud saw her own son sacrificed in the name of patriotism; her only son was killed in the first world war, yet Maud did not mark the grave of this man, whom Maud would have believed to have been about the same age as her missing son, because Sir Arthur said that it wasn't a Neolithic or Bronze Age burial...Sir Arthur said that the man was probably Iron Age, therefore - because Sir Arthur saw Britain as a closed off island, separate until invaders turned up- not British....

...if that is true does it really matter?

Here is Sir Arthur's report on the man in the ditch:
A slim man five feet seven inches tall all his teeth free from disease -but certain of his bones have not ceased growing. Wrist bones are finished so is knee and shoulder. Epiphysis of hip and shoulder blade are un-closed. The Sagittal suture if fussed which makes him older than thirty-five -but other signs show him to be less than twenty-two.

His face and appearance are different to that of Bronze Age people.

It will be seen that the lower jaw is not only very narrow but the front teeth, instead of continuing forwards on a level with the back teeth, rise up above them to compensate for a defective growth in the corresponding part of the upper jaw and upper face.] He has not the face form of our Neolithic people nor the head form of the Bronze Age people, therefore I think we are compelled to place him in the Iron Age.