Sunday, 28 July 2013

East Devon and West Dorset; my latest archaeological adventure!

Last week I took advantage of the sunny weather and headed out west, staying on the coastline along the Dorset/Devon border in England's West Country. This gave me the opportunity to visit a variety of archaeological monuments in the area, which I would not hesitate to recommend to any of my heritage-minded readers!

The Grey Mare and her Colts;
a chambered long barrow near Abbotsbury, Dorset.
Multiple ritual monuments dating to the Neolithic - or "New Stone Age" - period can be found in the area, and although they aren't easy to get to, they are certainly worth the effort. The Grey Mare and her Colts is an example of an Early Neolithic chambered tomb, now largely dilapidated, located on farmland near to Abbotsbury in Dorset. I haven't read up on all the literature regarding the site yet, but considering the monument type, it probably once held the remains of the dead, much like Kent's Medway Megaliths which are closer to home for me. Such chambered tombs were built in an era when agriculture was beginning to take hold in the British Isles, and perhaps reflected an increasing sense of ancestral ownership over the land.

Kingston Russell stone circle, with imposing views
across the landscape.
As the Early Neolithic gave way to the Later Neolithic, monuments built in Britain began to adopt a circular archetype, something that undoubtedly had a symbolic resonance for the people who constructed them. These included the causewayed enclosures, henges, and stone circles, examples of which can be found in the Dorset/Devon area. These were undoubtedly sites designated for ritual or ceremonial purposes, but the exact purposes remain an enigma, even for archaeologists who have devoted their lives to studying them.

Not far from the Grey Mare and her Colts is the Kingston Russell stone circle, positioned at an imposing part of the landscape. Unfortunately time has not been kind to this monument, and today it has been largely eroded away, leaving merely eighteen small stoney stumps jutting out the ground. Managed by English Heritage, there was an unfortunate lack of information at the site, which I hope might be rectified in future.

The Nine Stones, in a small wooden glade next to the
main road.
Perhaps more impressive is the Nine Stones, a small circle near to the village of Winterbourne Abbas, although in this case it is unusually located in a valley, and unfortunately is now directly adjacent to a main road, which denigrates the romantic aura that the circle otherwise evokes. Neither of these Dorset circles are as breathtaking as the stone circles that can be found in the Lake District, such as Swinside and Castlerigg, but they are nevertheless interesting, particularly for those like myself who are fascinated by the archaeology of ritual and religion.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

New Research on the Entheogenic Basis to Palaeolithic Cave Art...

As readers of Albion Calling will be aware, one of my interests in the archaeology of religion is in Palaeolithic rock art; earlier this year I even had the opportunity to visit many of these cave images for myself.

The idea that these prehistoric paintings and engravings reflected entheogenic images experienced through altered states of consciousness (perhaps drug induced), is certainly not a new one. It was most famously articulated by South Africa's Dr. David Lewis-Williams in his excellent book, The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art (Thames and Hudson, 2002). Last November he came over to London to give a couple of lectures, which I positively reviewed at the time.

Now a new paper building on the ideas of Lewis-Williams and other exponents of the entheogen hypothesis has appeared in the Adaptive Behaviour journal, authored by Tom Froese, Alexander Woodward, and Takashi Ikegami. The original paper can be read online for free here, while a summary of their findings has been posted on the alternet site.