Norfolk delivers another major archaeological discovery - experts reveal second timber circle dates back to the time of Seahenge
Archaeologists are about to go public with the results of tests which have dated a wooden structure found at Holme, near Hunstanton, to 2049BC.
Secrets of the sands
• Seahenge was heralded as one of the greatest discoveries of the late 20th Century. Analysing its axe marks showed that society was more advanced than had been previously believed 4,000 years ago, because metal tools had become common place.
• 15 years after the wooden ring and its central upturned oak stump were removed from the peat bed which had preserved them, at Holme-next-the-Sea, scientists have now confirmed a second circle found nearby was linked to Seahenge.
• One theory is that the upturned stump was the final resting place of an important person after death, where his or her body would be allowed to break down in the open air.
• Other finds were played down by officials after Seahenge was removed, to discourage people from venturing onto areas of the beach where terns breed and flocks of waders feed in winter.
• At least one other circle has appeared from time to time as the sands have uncovered it, before disappearing again with the next storm tide.
• Seahenge is thought to have been a free standing timber circle, possibly built to mark the death of an individual, symbolising their passing to another world. The second circle nearby could be what remains of a burial mound.
• Dr Clive Bond, from the West Norfolk and King’s Lynn Archaeological Society, said: “This function, often referred to in anthropological circles as ‘sky burial’ and practiced by Buddhist monks in Nepal, involves exposure of a body or body parts to the elements, so birds and perceived spirits can take the soul of the departed to the next life.
The revelation is certain to spark fresh debate about why ancient people built the mysterious oak circles, during the early Bronze Age.
“The felling date on them is the spring or early summer of 2049BC, those trees were felled at exactly the same time,” said David Robertson, historic environment officer with Norfolk County Council.
“Having one was fantastic, having two adds to the story. We have to try and understand not just why they were built but what were they used for.”
Controversy erupted after scientists began digging up Seahenge, after it was discovered in 1998. Protesters clashed with archaeologists as the 55 posts and central stump were taken away to be preserved, before eventually going on display at Lynn Museum.
Tree ring dating, or dendrochronology tests were carried out on samples from the second circle last summer. While the results confirm it was almost certainly built by the same people as Seahenge, Mr Robertson said the second structure would not be excavated.
“Since 1999 it’s been visible at some times and covered by the sand at other times,” he said. “There are no plans to dig it up, it’s been decided with the second circle to let nature take its course.”
Over the years, the sea has claimed parts of the structure. Erosion and the loss of its timbers prompted the dating project, the results of which are expected to be published soon.
The area where the circle has been found is on the foreshore which forms part of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Holme Dunes nature reserve.
Conservationists say the peat provides important habitat for large numbers of marine invertebrates, which are a rich source of food for wading birds.
Kevin Hart, the trust’s head of nature reserves said: “The quality of the wildlife habitat at Holme Dunes is reflected in the fact that it holds nearly every national and international statutory protection available.
“Norfolk Wildlife Trust requests that visitors respect this special reserve because of the many bird species using the beach at this time of year. This second wooden circle is below the high water mark and is currently buried in sand and not visible.”