Monday, 5 December 2016

The Cockoo Stone - repost from 2011

The Cuckoo stone.
The cuckoo stone, unlike the stones of Stonehenge did not make a long journey to be here. The Cuckoo stone was accidentally here, no one dragged it or carried it any great distance.

Research by the Riverside Project found that some time before 2000 BC it was hauled upright.

The stone no longer stands, it has fallen onto its side.

Woodhenge is to the east of the Cuckoo Stone.

To the West of the Cuckoo stone were found two, Neolithic pits. One dated to the fourth millennium BC containing pottery, animal bones and struck flints. The second pit was dated to the third millennium BC and contained antlers and animal bones.

To the South of the stone, on a line that ran North South there were three Bronze Age pots, I don’t know what date they were given. There were two upright collared urns and one inverted Enlarged Food Vessel, so late Neolithic Early Bronze Age perhaps?

The name Cuckoo stone is most often taken to mean that this stone is in the wrong place, but another name for it and other cuckoo stones is the cuckold stone. The cuckold bird is a more correct name for a cuckoo after all.

There is a saying, “A man wearing horns is the last to know” and a hand symbol of a fist with first and last fingers raised, like horns, to go with it.

I’m tempted to suggest that this old saying and sign came to us as a reference to Alexander the Great's army trailing across continents and leaving many half Macedonian children in its wake, for Alexander the Great was pictured on his coins as wearing rams horns -Alexander as Zeus-Ammon.

But I’m also reminded of the horn head-dress found at Starr Carr and of far older rock art depicting horned men.

The sign of the horns was described by Bram Stoker in Dracula as “A sign against the evil eye”.

Jinx Dawson -lead singer in Coven is credited with being one, if not the first, to say it is the devil’s sign.”

I know it as “Subjugating mudra” a sign used in a ritual whilst holding the thunderbolt sceptre, when making threats to ‘demons’ but that’s another story.

The Ditch of Woodhenge.
Maud Cunnington excavated the ditch in 1929. She described it as six to seven feet deep and twelve to sixteen foot wide on the floor. On one spot at the South it was found to be narrower, only four foot wide.

The earth from the ditch was heaped up in a ring that was four to five foot wide.

Working out when Woodhenge was made is quite difficult. The pottery found by Wainwright and Evans (1979). in the ditch -Grooved ware was C14 dated to 2280 BC.

Maud Cunnington had resolutely named all the bits of pottery found inside the post holes at Woodhenge as ‘Beaker’ pottery. Without more, and preferably clear and accurate information, it is impossible to know exactly what she found.

Excavations by The Riverside project found a tree ‘throw hole’ that contained Neolithic pottery dated somewhere between 4000 and 3800 BC, Analyses of that find indicated that at that time the land in this area had been cleared of trees and had been a long established grassland. Six Neolithic storage pits with Rinyo-Clacton (Grooved Ware) pottery, and Neolithic occupation debris were found beneath the bank of Woodhenge.

Circular, ritual spaces evolved from causewayed enclosures (approximately 3500 BC). The causewayed enclosure seems to be the first kind of British, circular monument.

The Wessex causewayed enclosures contained a lot of human bone, especially within the ditch, but it is almost impossible to know if the bones were placed there or just fell in. Like the henges, the causewayed enclosures often contained pits for special deposits. Hambledon Hill had skulls placed at regular intervals within the ditch.

Windmill Hill contained remains of pottery once used for cooking, and eating and drinking. Here, goats, cattle and sheep were cared for and brought to Windmill Hill to be killed for meat and skins. Their remains now lie under the ground as bones in the ditches. People seem to have brought bones of their relations or ancestors to the site too, and these were placed or fell in to the ditches.

It is not unreasonable to see these places as charnel grounds. To imagine the people bringing their dead up onto the hill away from the living. At certain times of the year, the living would return to collect the adult long bones and skulls to place within the long barrow close by.

The linear cursus appear after causewayed enclosures, they have been interpreted as buffer zones between ceremonial and occupation landscapes, one place for ghosts and magic, another for everyday life. The finds of arrowheads at a Yorkshire cursus (Rudston) suggest archery and hunting were important to the builders and that the length of the cursus may have reflected its use as a proving ground for young men involving a journey to adulthood.

Another theory is that the cursus has astronomical alignments Cursuses, as 'symbolic rivers', like the Milky Way perhaps.

By the time cursus are being layed out, the narrative that gave meaning to the collecting up bones of and placing them inside long barrows was fading. Cremation became the preferred method of taking care of the dead. It has been suggested that bones taken from the causewayed enclosure at Windmill Hill may have been washed in the water of the Swallow Head spring before being taken into West Kennet barrow. An increase in the number of cremation and paradoxically the lack of cremation urns from this period hint that there may be a new ritual of strewing the ashes into the river. Perhaps, as in Ancient Egypt the river on earth is symbolic of the river in the sky. A river ‘burial’ provides an explanation for the absence of human remains belonging to this time.

Henges seem to be associated with water, they are often close to a cursus and they are often in groups. Henges do not contain as many random bones as causeway enclosures, but a common location for a burial is either at the entrance to, or at the centre of the henge, or both.

At Woodhenge the deposits made inside the henge itself are placed in the pits as the posts go in, or around the posts. Symbolic axes (soft chalk and palm sized so could never be used for work) and human remains are placed in significant posts.

A pattern of animal remains becomes apparent, pig bones are found at the outer, ditch edge of the henge, cattle remains close to the centre.

Some henges may have had coves (Woodhenge included) three large stones placed as an open box called a cove, Aubrey Burl has suggested that these structures represented the forecourts of the older, long barrows. At Woodhenge there may have been a cove located in the South, to South West, opposite the North, North East entrance.

Why did cremation take over from defleshing and the collection of bones?

Perhaps the dead had become dangerous?

Even in church yards, it is said that the yew were planted because their deep roots would fix the dead into their graves.

The dead were no longer placed in cave-like long barrows, but were cremated. The marrow of the bone looks like flesh and possibly represents the source of life? By burning and crushing the bones and releasing the ash into water the spirit is led away by the water - washed down into the land of the ancestors, from Woodhenge to Stonehenge.

Significant finds.
In the East at the bottom of the ditch, Maud Cunnington’s dig opened up the shallow grave of a young man. He lay on his side, head to South, feet pointing east, his face turned facing east;

[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 vertebra, a rib bone, three teeth and part of another large bone, all of ox.

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"
"His grave is not marked at Woodhenge, and his bones now lie in a tin hidden from public view in the Natural History museum, London.

Finds associated with the ditch, close to the ditch on the outside of the ring, and finds from within the post holes.

This is an incomplete list, simplified to bones, chalk and axes.


Inside the henge.

C 14. Burnt human bones.

C 13 contained ‘Fragments of human skull and teeth just below the chalk line’.

A 45 had ‘More bone than usual’.

North East inside henge:

B 21 a chalk axe.

C 11 chip of polished axe.
At four foot deep a fragment of skull.

Inside the henge:
A 16 contained ’Pig, ox and arrow heads plus a piece of chalk with a hole bored into it’.

C 5 flint hammer, fossil Echinus and beaker.

E 6 Part of human femur
South West inside henge:
B 6 a fragment of beaker.
On the East side at a depth called by Maud Cunnington, Romano British (four foot) there were the bones of an infant, and also a radius.

At three foot, a fragment of skull, Romano British pottery and fragments of a child’s jaw and teeth.

East inside henge:
C 9 chalk ‘lamp’, worked chalk hammer and beaker.
West at four to five foot deep -in the same layer (Cunnington 1929) as some Beaker pottery, a fragment of skull.

At two foot deep, bones of a young infant (Romano British layer).

On the West side of ditch there was an area of burnt flint, two or three inches deep.

West inside henge: 
F 1 flint axe.

The Henge.
First the posts and then the stones…but what of the central burial?
[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 centre of the burial, though not through the centre 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".
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 centre 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

At Woodhenge, the grave of the child had been made beautiful..

But the other grave remains unknown to most people and so I set off to find it.

Maud Cunnington included a plan in her notes of where she had dug the ditch. The body must have been within the eastern side of the excavation and so I went over to the ditch to see.

It is possible just about, to see which area had been dug 82 years ago!
Or am I fooling myself?

The grass is slightly greener, there is something more uneven about the line of the henge there.

I put down the sticks and X marks the spot.

Again, like the burial at The Sanctuary he was buried to face the equinox sunrise.

This next photo shows the direction that he was facing.
He was buried facing the opposite direction to the Cuckoo stone, towards the hills and what is now the main road.