Astonishing Mesolithic Discoveries at Vespasian’s Camp, near Stonehenge

by Dennis on April 10, 2012

Recent archaeological excavations under the direction of David Jacques (photographed above) at Vespasian’s Camp near Stonehenge have produced a treasure trove of awe-inspiring discoveries from the Mesolithic Era. For those of you who are unaware of these developments, you can read a fairly detailed three page summary on this Open University link and as you’ll see, it contains observations whose intriguing nature makes them leap out of the page from start to finish.

From what I’ve seen and heard of these excavations, the discoveries are on a par with those of Gobekli Tepe as far as their implications are concerned, although I accept that I may be in a minority of one on this matter. However, what has been brought to light thus far has been described of “at least national importance” by Barry Bishop of the British Lithics Society, so I would confidently expect that such superlatives will only be added to as time goes by, while I doubt that it will only be the academics and archaeologists who voice their appreciation of these staggering finds.

I’ve written extensively about Vespasian’s Camp over the years, most notably because I believe that the evidence points unambiguously towards this place as having been the lost “City of Apollo” as described by Pytheas of Massilia in the 4th century BC. Elsewhere on this site, you’ll find studies of various aspects of the Mesolithic era in the Stonehenge landscape, such as the fearsome aurochs and the enigmatic pits in what is now the carpark at Stonehenge, but there are other matters pertaining to Vespasian’s Camp here, hidden away among all the many posts and contributions sent in by others.

I think it’s safe to say that the eyes of many very highly-placed individuals are now firmly concentrated on Vespasian’s Camp. The more imaginative among them will already be wondering what else will come to light, while it’s surely a matter of simple fact that beneath the ruins of this mysterious citadel lies concealed an archaeological cornucopia of unimaginable proportions, a bequest from our ancestors that will revolutionise our view of the prehistoric Stonehenge landscape and of the people who visited, lived, loved, worshipped and died there over the course of millennia.

Just one of the many gems in the link given at the top of this post speaks of “…an Iron Age pottery assemblage from badger throws along the western ramparts of the Camp…which suggests the fort might have been an important centre for trade and people movement in the later Iron Age”. All in all, it’s very tempting to post up great tracts dealing with my thoughts on Vespasian’s Camp, but I’ve decided instead to refer anyone with a further interest in this matter to the relevant pages of the Stonehenge Druids site.

As you’ll quickly see for yourselves, Frank Somers of the Stonehenge Druids has taken a great interest in proceedings at Amesbury and at Vespasian’s Camp. I understand that the material he’s posting on his site is very much a work in progress, due to the sheer volume of text, photographs and videos he’s willing to share with the world, so I would suggest that anyone who is interested in these things visit Frank’s site as a matter of course, because I do not plan to publish material about Vespasian’s Camp myself for the foreseeable future.

Of course, you can write to the Stonehenge Druids yourselves on their site, but I’m happy in this case for anyone who has a question or perhaps a request to post a comment here addressing Frank and he will reply as and when he’s able to do so. There is something pleasantly ironic about a member of the much-maligned Druids being a major source of easily accessible, free and up-to-date information on the latest archaeological discoveries in the Stonehenge landscape, so on that happy note, I shall leave you all to enjoy yourselves.

Photographs by kind permission of Andy Rhind-Tutt, Mayor of Historic Amesbury.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Angie Lake April 10, 2012 at 11:53 pm

That’s great news Dennis! You’ve certainly been on the right track here. It’ll be great if archaeologists are allowed to dig further and interpret more of this fascinating site – especially the early period.

My pal and I are staying close by in June, for 5 nights, so will definitely visit the museum that’s recently opened in Amesbury, and try and find out a bit more. We’re currently looking into Celtic Sanctuaries / Shrines, and the spring area with its votive offerings may have been typical of what we’re trying to locate in mid-Devon’s ‘nymet’ area.

Dennis April 10, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Thank you very much for this, Angie. I don’t know what the current status of the museum is, or whether it’ll be open for business when you and your pal are there, but I’m sure there’ll be more information on the Stonehenge Druids’ site or an update from Frank here. It is all absolutely fascinating stuff, that’s for sure.

JohnWitts April 11, 2012 at 6:41 am

Sorry hit wrong keys – lap top lost bearings and thick fingers

http://www.eternalidol.com/?p=960

It does not seem like four years

“Myself, I cannot imagine posts located in the middle of nowhere. There had to be a settled community near by? Finds in Turkey and the permanent settlement at Portland (mentioned above) may mean in the light of new Mesolithic finds, Archaeology will have to adjust its views of the nature of Mesolithic society – just as it had to with the primitive barbarians of the Neolithic”.

I don’t claim that was a major insight on par with Dennis’ City of Apollo, but it was a commonsense conclusion from the evidence. We are so fortunate that the OU investigated what was viewed by many as an unimportant hill fort – as if there could be such a thing so near to Stonehenge – and given us this major leap forward. From it, we should be able to develop a greater understanding of Stonehenge.

frank April 11, 2012 at 8:41 am

My current understanding is that the museum is open for special events only until we get our new building built but that may change given the success of this weekend. I’ll update you if it does. The spring and dig site are not accessible to the public, being on private land.

Chris Johnson April 11, 2012 at 9:06 am

Thanks for the links, stunning amount of Mesolithic material and I enjoyed my first encounter with Frank.

Niall O'Draighnean April 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm

This is a fascinating discovery and the flint tools I have so far seen on the Open University link are exquisite..Springs have always been Sacred; Before the advent of piped water our ancestors would have known its true value in a Spiritual as well as a Physical sense.

The fact that unused tools of great personal value were deposited as offerings in a lake hint at a spiritual continuity that survived to the Iron Age and beyond. At a time when resources such as Water become increasingly scarce due to the demands of a species clearly out of touch with itself as well as the Nature we are part of, this comes as a timely reminder that certain themes are eternal and we should never take for granted something we can not live without.

frank April 11, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Just to let you know that I have posted up another page with some more of the information very generously shared by David and his team with the Amesbury community at the Amesbury Museum on the weekend.

JANET April 13, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Vespasian’s Camp is an amazing site. The amount of worked flint is absolutely awe inspiring, to say nothing of the finds of TWO aurochs, and new finds of a boar’s tusk and a rat’s tooth (and maybe some burning). A bronze age dagger of a rare type was also found in one of the early years of the dig, its tip broken, probably to ritually ‘kill it’, and it then went into the spring…again, is this the root of the legends of king Arthur with swords going back into the water upon the demise of their bearers?

Dennis April 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Well, Janet, you’re preaching to the long-ago converted as far as Vespasian’s Camp is concerned. Its potential is staggering and I’m still trying to fully take in the nature and sheer quantity of the finds discovered there, while there can only be more of this in the future. Yes, the Arthurian aspect of all this is fascinating, so I’m going to do my level best to write up another original post as soon as possible concerning some of what we’ve learned. If you have any other thoughts on the matter, or any other news, please by all means feel free to write in.

Niall O'Draighnean April 13, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Hi Dennis,

Before the advent of Steel, flint would have been used extensively in woodcarving; some of the pieces I saw on the link from the Open University seemed to be a type of chisel that could have been set into a handle with rawhide and some appeared to be spokeshaves.

Flint can also be used to rub on hard woods to give a smooth finish; I do this with my own woodcarving, it also works well on bone and Antler. Hard smooth stone such as Bluestone may have been used like a rasp on the same materials. This is a truly wonderful find at what may have been a Craft center and trading post as well as a Ritual Center.

Dennis April 13, 2012 at 11:46 pm

Thanks very much for this, Niall – I hadn’t really intended to discuss these matters on this particular post, as I had in mind writing up another, but it’s too tempting, really. I’m interested by what you say about these various materials and tools, and while it seems that most of them – flint and metal apart – it’s not unthinkable that some carved wood may yet survive from this era.

Furthermore, I don’t know the exact provenance of these things, but on page 235 on Hengeworld (and undoubtedly elsewhere as well) there are illustrations of carved chalk plaques that bear fairly sophisticated abstract designs that were found in Amesbury, near Stonehenge. There may well be more information in Stonehenge In Its Landscape, but I do not own a copy, sadly.

Nonetheless, when we add these new discoveries to others such as the sophisticated Bush Barrow lozenges, the mace heads, the carvings at Stonehenge, evidence of Britain’s earliest known metal worker closeby, StonehengeHog and others, it all seems to point towards Vespasian’s Camp as you describe it, i.e. as a craft centre and trading post.

Tom Flowers April 14, 2012 at 11:28 pm

A museum in Amesbury? Please notify me of its adress.
Thank you
Tom

Dennis April 15, 2012 at 12:27 am

All the details, the location and the plans for the proposed new building can be found on the link to the Stonehenge Druids site, while I’m sure there are other details elsewhere on the internet with sites and local papers that cover Amesbury, Salisbury, Wiltshire etc.

Angie Lake April 15, 2012 at 9:44 am

Tom, I saw the info here first, but must admit I hadn’t read it properly:
http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=31133

chris johnson April 15, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Niall, really interesting input. Do you think that in the Neolithic, people could have used a basic lathe using a flint cutting edge?

Niall O'Draighnean April 15, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Greetings Chris, amazing; the idea of a lathe never occurred to me, but a basic pole lathe is essentially Neolithic technology as you can make simple drills from Flint..It would be well worthwhile doing a living history experiment along these lines..Thank you for your input..I am still downloading this possibility..

But I really do not see why this would not have been attempted as it would have had great practical value [Smooth rollers for moving large stones along runners e.t.c.]

Tom Flowers April 15, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Thank you for helping me to find the address of Amesbury’s new museum Angie. As far as I can tell, its address is: Melor Hall, Church Street, Amesbury SP4 7EU.
Tom Flowers

Angie Lake April 15, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Tom, Have you found this article that Frank wrote (he mentions it above):
http://www.stonehenge-druids.org/small-museum.html
I’m going to read about the trench next!

Tom Flowers April 18, 2012 at 9:53 am

Angie; I am sorry for taking so long to reply.

Thank you for pointing me in the direction of Frank’s website.

ATB
Tom Flowers

Dennis April 18, 2012 at 2:52 pm

The link to the Stonehenge Druids site was put up here solely for the purpose of directing people towards pictures and other information pertaining to the excavations and finds at Vespasian’s Camp. Anyone wishing to make suggestions concerning the planned museum is welcome to write to the interested parties or to discuss these various matters on other sites, but not here.

Dennis April 30, 2012 at 12:31 am

Earlier this evening, I came across this informative slideshow on the BBC news site, which deals with an endangered tribe in the Amazon. Their plight is an emotive and distressing subject, of course, but I mention them here because they’re hunter-gatherers, as I assume our ancestors in the Mesolithic were.

I was interested by the mention of the amount of pets these people keep, while I also noted that women from this tribe sometimes suckle orphaned creatures they find. I can’t be sure from the text on the slide if this just applies to monkeys, or to other creatures, but it naturally made me wonder about the everyday lives of our ancestors who lived around Stonehenge in the place now known to us as Vespasian’s Camp.

Julius Caesar recorded that the Germans failed to tame the aurochs, even when the creatures were captured as young calves, so I doubt our ancestors had any greater success in this area, if indeed they ever tried. However, the mention of inter-species suckling, which I’ve read of as occurring in other cultures today, also made me think of Romulus and Remus. For once, I have no point to make here, because I’m simply thinking out loud, but it is endlessly fascinating to ponder our remote ancestors and now that so much new information about them has come to light as a result of the excavations at Vespasian’s Camp, there is all the more food for thought.

Dennis April 30, 2012 at 12:47 am

The BBC slideshow that I’ve linked to above also mentions an old lady who lives by herself and gathers her own food. By coincidence, I’ve just come across this link to an 86 year old gentleman called Brendon Grimshaw, who lives alone on an island in the Seychelles, an experience that seems to be doing him the power of good, while his presence there has also certainly helped the wild tortoises.

Robin Melrose June 4, 2012 at 8:02 am

Hi Dennis,

The chalk plaques in Hengeworld were found in 1969 at King Barrow Ridge and Stonehenge Bottom by Faith Vatcher during the widening and lowering of the A303. Another one has been found at Butterfield Down (site of a Romano-British village). I hope to find more about it in WANHM when I next go to Salisbury Library. Seems like the designs on them are similar in some ways to the design on the Bush barrow lozenge. Incidentally David Jacques found ducks, and there are water-birds, possibly swans, on a late Bronze Age bronze flesh-hook from Dunaverney in Co. Antrim, Northern ireland.

david knight February 25, 2013 at 8:51 pm

my mum was a Jacques from Crowborough are we related cheers dave

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