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The wonder of Norfolk’s Seahenge, 20 years on from its re-discovery near Hunstanton

PUBLISHED: 15:08 24 April 2018 | UPDATED: 10:36 25 April 2018

Seahenge, which was discovered on Holme Beach in 1998. Picture: The late Wendy George.

Seahenge, which was discovered on Holme Beach in 1998. Picture: The late Wendy George.

Wendy George

The discovery of Seahenge is being celebrated 20 years after the Bronze Age timber circle was uncovered by the tides on a Norfolk beach.

Seahenge in 1999. Picture: Archant Seahenge in 1999. Picture: Archant

As the storms raged out to sea, the tide revealed a wonder on the beach.

A wooden ring and an upturned stump planted on the North Sea shoreline would shed new light on one of Norfolk’s earliest civilisations.

Thousands of years ago the sands and salt marsh at Holme, near Hunstanton, were walked by the ancients when they came to lay their dead.

The Seahenge exhibition at the Lynn Museum in King's Lynn. Pictured is the great central stump. Picture: Ian Burt The Seahenge exhibition at the Lynn Museum in King's Lynn. Pictured is the great central stump. Picture: Ian Burt

The discovery of Seahenge is being celebrated 20 years after the Bronze Age timber circle was uncovered by the tides.

West Norfolk Mayor Carol Bower will be hosting an evening at King’s Lynn Town Hall on Friday.

Clive Bond, chair of the West Norfolk and King’s Lynn Archaeological Society, will be giving a talk on the lives and beliefs of the early Bronze Age people who built the structure more than 4,000 years ago.

The second seahenge at Holme. Pic: NPS Archaeology The second seahenge at Holme. Pic: NPS Archaeology

Dr Bond, who was involved in monitoring the discovery in 1999, believes it and a second circle found nearby were the focal point of ancient death rituals.

“If you go to that place, it’s the one place on the coast where you can see the sun setting in the west, it’s a very unique location,” he said. “The death of the sun and that body being there has to be about the spirit moving on.”

Dr Bond believes that the dead would have been prepared on the central stump, before birds were allowed to remove flesh from their corpses.

The Seahenge exhibition at the Lynn Museum in King's Lynn. Pictured looking at the timber circle is curatorial assistant Dayna Woolbright. Picture: Ian Burt The Seahenge exhibition at the Lynn Museum in King's Lynn. Pictured looking at the timber circle is curatorial assistant Dayna Woolbright. Picture: Ian Burt

He said there was evidence of similar “sky burials” being carried out around the Methwold Severals in the Fens, where ancient body parts have been ploughed up from time to time.

Perhaps our ancestors believed that the birds would carry their spirit into the next life. Nepalese monks believe the same to this day.

Seahenge gained a new lease of life after a storm revealed the ancient ring of oak timbers and its upturned stump in the spring of 1998.

It was discovered by Holme villager John Lorimer, who had previously found an axe head on the beach.

The find hit the headlines the following year, as archaeologists went public.

But there was anger after they announced plans to excavate the stump and its ring of timbers to study them.

The relics were removed amid angry protests from druids, who believed that they should have been left in situ to preserve their magic.

Dendro-dating - the study of tree rings - revealed that they dated back to the spring of 2049 BC.

Study of marks in the 55 timbers showed that at least 38 different metal axes were used to crudely shape them.

The fact that a remote Norfolk community had access to so many tools barely a century after the technology to make them first reached our shores showed that society in ancient Norfolk was far more advanced than had previously been believed.

Heralded as one of the most important finds of the late 20th Century, Seahenge was followed by further discoveries up the coast at Happisburgh.

A Paleolithic hand-axe found in 2000 was dated to 700,000BC, while in in 2013, the earliest evidence of human footprints outside Africa, believed to be 850,000 years old, were found nearby.

Seahenge’s stump and timbers are now on permanent display at Lynn Museum. They were preserved by the Mary Rose Trust, in Portsmouth, which used a special wax to prevent the wood from disintegrating.

A second circle was later found on the beach and dendro-dated to the same year of 2049.

Other posts have also emerged at Holme, perhaps indicating a walkway across the marshes.

All have been left there to decay naturally over time as the sands cover and uncover it.

Dr Bond’s talk will be at King’s Lynn Town Hall on Friday, April 27 (6.30pm). Tickets priced £6 from the Customs House, King’s Lynn and the RNLI Lifeboat Station (Shop), Old Hunstanton or on the door. All proceeds to Hunstanton RNLI.

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