Prehistoric Sickle Discovered at Stonehenge

by Dennis on March 6, 2013

damblans

On October 22nd 2012, I published a post entitled Pliny’s Golden Sickle, in reference to the curious blade with which the Druids were said to cut mistletoe. At the very start of the post, I wrote “I’m not aware that any such artefact has ever been discovered…” but I had a real shock earlier this evening (Tuesday) when I was looking through my copy of the 1995 English Heritage publication Stonehenge in its landscape, in search of details of Iron Age discoveries made at the monument over the years by archaeologists.

On page 337, under the heading Iron Age and later, there are details of Roman pottery and other finds made at Stonehenge. The text makes clear that the material surviving from early excavations at the monument wasn’t concentrated in any part of the site, with the exception of “one fairly coherent group of material….recovered by Hawley in 1920 immediately south of Stone 7 (CI).” We’re then presented with the following information:

“The shallow area along the south side of the frame contained a number of objects of the Romano-British period, and produced 92 sherds of that date, an iron awl, a small long hammer-head of iron resembling those used by jewellers or clockmakers at the present day, a turned bronze ring, part of a shale bangle, and part of an iron knife and of a sickle.” (1921, 29).

The main body of text goes on to tell us that only the ring and the shale bracelet have been identified in the collection.

As far as I’m aware – and as always, I’m open to being corrected here – only two objects or artefacts have ever been linked with the ancient Druids. One of these is the Coligny calendar, while this link from almost exactly 5 years ago in Der Spiegel provides us with evidence of a possible Druid grave 2.8 miles south-west of present day Colchester.

Fascinating though these various finds are, the one artefact most closely associated with the Druids was the sickle – pure gold or otherwise – so I was astonished to learn that part of a sickle had been unearthed and recorded by an archaeologist, and at Stonehenge of all places. Given the noted aversion that so many in the archaeological community have to the idea that the Iron Age Druids had anything whatsoever to do with Stonehenge, it seems absolutely bizarre that there should be credible archaeological evidence that suggests otherwise.

This was part of a sickle and not the whole instrument, but the word sickle is unmistakably recorded and a possible link to the Druids must have occurred to Hawley. If Professor Atkinson ever read of this discovery, or saw it for himself, then it is certain that he would have made the same connection, regardless of whether or not it was made of gold, but as I’ve noted on many occasions, the learned professor wasn’t noted for his meticulous record-keeping as far as Stonehenge was concerned.

This part of a sickle was found with other objects, most notably the Romano-British potsherds. It’s possible that it was a part of some mediaeval or later instrument that was somehow accidentally buried in amongst the earlier finds, but on balance of probability, I’d say there is a good chance that it was contemporary with them. It may have had nothing whatsoever to do with the ancient British Druids, but given the huge amount of evidence in favour of these people frequenting and using Stonehenge for their own purposes, and given that the sickle is the one instrument most closely associated with this ancient priesthood, then I’d say there was at least a fighting chance that in this case, the Druids and this part of a sickle were intimately linked.

From my understanding of the text in SIIL, no one has a clue where this object now is. Even if it were recovered, then it would have to be dated and the scientific community would have to find evidence that it had once been covered in gold, if anyone were to make a convincing case for it once having been used by the Druids, although even then there would be those who expressed their doubts.

Given that the ‘alleged’ Druid link with Stonehenge is such a contentious issue, then it surely stands to reason that all right-thinking and reasonable people would like to see some headway made on this matter, one way or another. With this in mind, the obvious place to go searching for this truly fascinating ‘part of a sickle’ is in Hawley’s Graves, while there’s every chance that many other wonders from Stonehenge’s past await rediscovery there as well.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian March 6, 2013 at 8:37 am

Most here perhaps listened to this at the time, but for anone that hasn’t heard it in addition to other many things said Cunliffe makes an interesting statement that from memory is near the end: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01mqq94

ND Wiseman March 6, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Hi Dennis.
Yes — the Lurker on the Idol has returned to haunt you!

I live on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, in the Northeast US. It’s a peninsula that sticks out into the Atlantic and resembles an arm with a clenched fist. I like to think that it’s shaking this fist at the oppressive, reactionary British who so woefully decided that their long-neglected, independent Colonists should pay for foreign Imperialist wars.
But that’s just me.

Relative to the rest of the United States, this neck of the woods is pretty old — getting to be almost 400 years. (I hear my English friends chuckling, as this is the equivalent of last month to them!)

Anyway, we still have a few wooded areas here. You can go out to these small timbered areas, and if you scratch around in some randomly selected patch, the odds are that you’re going to kick up some artifact.
It might be an arrow-head from the native Noble Savage, it might be a square shoe-buckle, it might be a coin from 1890, or it might be thousand year-old charcoals from a Viking fire pit used for drying fish.

More than likely it will be a beer can or a Tampon applicator.

The point is that even though there’s nothing of any real structural interest in that location, the detritus of 400+ years is going to be found. Without time-context it appears as though people just wandered through the area merrily flinging their belongings to the wind.

Now let’s go to Jolly Olde England and scratch around in what few woods remain there. What will we find 2-inches below the surface? Take this little exercise down to a very broad, extensive rolling Plain where the only thing to be seen for miles around is this rather interesting Pile of Rocks stuck out in the middle of nowhere.

Let’s have lunch. We can fix our shoes. Maybe there’s Treasure!
The point is, that if there’s a tree, rock, or an old abandoned cellar-hole, it is going to attract the wayfarer.

I think it’s interesting that between the deep layers under Stonehenge where a few really old pottery shards have been found, and the middle/late Iron Age, virtually Nothing is found. This tells us that it was in use for a very long time as a [Your Theory Here] and nobody dropped a spoon.

Now it’s 125 AD and I’m a Roman soldier in a cadre of other Roman soldiers. I’m on my way from Londinium to Cornwall to help protect the tin and lead mines there. On the way we see this Pile of Rocks and stop and take a break. Staring in wonder at this weird edifice I then sit down on the west side of recumbent S-8 and proceed to fix my shoe with an awl and leather strap, tightened by a metal ring. Over night, the Captain is spooked by this weird place and I have to hustle back to the Formation. Oops! In the dark, I’ve left my repair kit behind!

If Druids passed through this area they no doubt did similar things. Perhaps a ceremonial sickle was inadvertently dropped and left behind. (As unlikely as this seems). But one thing about this tells us is that the place must not have gotten a lot of visitors, because that sickle stayed right there for 2,000 years. So it was a long time lying on the ground before it got covered by wind-blown dust.

Time goes on and the Romans subdue the Southlands and start trying to figure out this Edifice. Maybe they removed the oval bluestones and maybe they didn’t. Maybe they fussed with and broke off the top of S-11. But whatever they did, they left solid evidence of their stay in coins and other articles.
It seems like everyone who wanders past has left something. The Victorians were notorious litter-bugs.

I’m no arborist, but I doubt there was ever any mistletoe hanging off the Stones. Caesar tells us in 40 BC that these people worshipped their strange gods out in the woods. The last woods in this area were cleared 4,000 years before the Romans. In my view, if the Druids ever went to Stonehenge, it was as tourists or day-trippers — just like everyone else.

Hawley’s sickle most likely belonged to some local farmer who sat down to take a break from the hot sun in the shadow of this huge, wholly mysterious Pile of Rocks.

Neil

DanJ March 6, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Neil
Opinions are like anuses-everyone has one. And, speaking of opinions, some Brits may think that Cape Cod, especially the end, looks more like a nonmuscular human appendage.

Seriously, I agree that some person, probably a gypsy as they used the monument for generations for a caravanserai, might have left it there or thrown an old one away but, by the same token, offerings were frequently buried in Britain from the Neolithic to the Iron Age and the sickle could have been deliberately interred. Hawley, unfortunately, seems to have had the curiosity of a cabbage and never bothered to follow up on any anomalous discoveries with outside experts.

The result is that we have no idea of when the sickle fragment came from and won’t until someone excavates Hawley’s Graves. This was Dennis’s main point along with the fact that its surprising indeed to find a sickle at Stonehenge considering it has been surrounded by grazing land until relatively recently. I don’t know about Massachusetts farmers but a sickle was considered too valuable a tool to leave behind in South Dakota until the Agricultural Revolution made it superfluous.

ND Wiseman March 7, 2013 at 2:40 am

LOL @ DanJ !!

Offerings notwithstanding, one sickle does not a Druid make.

I agree that Hawley’s Graves should be investigated.

Neil

Dennis March 8, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Neil, thank you for helpfully pointing out that “Hawley’s sickle most likely belonged to some local farmer who sat down to take a break from the hot sun….” I assume you’ve chosen to completely ignore the existence of the Romano-British potsherds found in the same pit as the part of the sickle? Just why it’s most likely that this part-of-a-sickle was left behind in the manner you describe, rather than by a sickle-wielding Druid, is completely beyond me. However, if you’d care to explain away the other iron artefacts, bronze ring and so forth found in the same pit, I’d be most grateful, even though I anticipate a tortuous and granular narrative.

When you presented this explanation of a forgetful farmer leaving behind a sickle that no one else stole during all the years it was lying above ground, but which seems to have gently teleported down through the ground to take its place, nestling cosily among an array of Romano-British finds, did you take into consideration that charcoal discovered at Stonehenge in a recent excavation by professors Darvill and Wainwright suggested to them “annual gatherings, perhaps for feasting and ceremony at the winter solstice, continuing as late as the 17th century?” If Hawley’s fragment-of-a-sickle were to be found and if it dated to before that time, then it would still reasonably qualify as a unique artefact used at ceremonies when Stonehenge was in active use.

You also helpfully pointed out “I’m no arborist, but I doubt there was ever any mistletoe hanging off the Stones. Caesar tells us in 40 BC that these people worshipped their strange gods out in the woods.” I’m struggling to come to terms with the idea that the only location where a Druid sickle could ever be discovered would be within ten feet or so of where there were once oak trees bearing mistletoe, but I suppose it makes a ghastly kind of sense. Following this logic, the Alfred Jewel is highly unlikely to be a book pointer as most scholars agree, because it wasn’t found in a library.

I can’t find any mention at all of Caesar speaking about the Druids worshipping strange gods in the woods, let alone of this happening in 40 BC when he’d been dead for about 4 years. Certainly, other classical authors spoke of Druid groves, but I assume you have a ready, detailed, lengthy and rock-solid rebuttal for the observations of Pomponius Mela, yet another Druid-related matter that I’ve explored in meticulous detail on this site years ago. So, please let me know why Stonehenge could never possibly have qualified as a ‘specus‘ and also please explain to me why a landscape literally crawling with Iron Age finds was actually the one Iron Age, Druid-free zone in Britain.

After that, we’ll get onto Geoffrey of Monmouth and others, while I’m sure you won’t take it amiss if as part of my case, I adopt your habits of casual, sweeping dismissal and plucking out of thin air scenarios such as farmers suffering from heatstroke and subsequent amnesia in a landscape deserted for years on end, just to suit my own purposes. I don’t make a point of relying on my imagination for the facts, but I’m coming to see the appeal of this strategy, that’s for sure.

ND Wiseman March 8, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Alrighty then …

I have thoroughly enjoyed my visits to your vastly informative site, Dennis. It is truly a rare and wonderful resource of fact, opinion and discussion.
I wish you and yours well, in hopes that the very best in life comes your way.

Neil

Dennis March 8, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Thank you for your kind words, Neil, and my best wishes to you and yours, also.

Robin Melrose May 4, 2013 at 4:59 pm

This has more to do with the Druids than sickles. Euan Mackie believes that the Druids go back to the Neolithic, and in this short item from the newsletter of the Society of Antiquaries of London, he compares the Nebra sky disc to the Bush Barrow Lozenge. See http://www.sal.org.uk/salon_archive/index_html?id=483. Does anyone know more about Alexander Thom? – it’s difficult to find any info about his 16-month solar calendar.

Dennis May 5, 2013 at 12:02 am

Robin, that is absolutely fascinating, so thank you very much for sending it in. I’ve always thought it was obvious to the meanest intelligence that the Druids – in some way, shape or form – predated the Iron Age, while I’ve always thought there was more than abundant evidence to demonstrate this pretty much beyond doubt.

It all reminds me a bit of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the populace were led to believe one thing for long as it was expedient, only to be induced to believe the exact opposite at some later date without any memory of the transition. I grew up listening to the archaeological mantra THE DRUIDS HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH STONEHENGE, but I always thought it was complete rubbish. Now, it seems, more and more people in positions of influence and power are quietly and subtly altering the party line, but as the evidence for Druids at Stonehenge in some way, shape or form has always been there, I’m curious as to what’s prompting this change of heart.

Be all that as it may, I’m not privy to the deliberations of the great and the good, but I would be enormously interested to learn of anything else of this nature you discover, so thank you again.

Brian May 5, 2013 at 6:39 am

The solar calendar is mentioned in the biography by Archibald Stevenson Thom: ‘Walking in All of the Squares: A Biography of Alexander Thom : Engineer, Archaeoastronomer, Discoverer of a Prehistoric Calendar, the Geometry of Stone Rings, and Megalithic Measurement’ (Argyll Publishing, 1995). There may be some further reference within perhaps.

DanJ May 5, 2013 at 11:35 am

Robin
You can read about Thom’s calendar in his own words at
http://www.spirasolaris.ca/sbb8c.pdf
as well as access the other chapters of his book Megalithic Sites in Britain. He did a lot of good for archeo-astronomy and archeological surveys of stone circles but some of his ideas are over the top. Like a computer modeler who believes his model instead of reality (do weather men even bother to look outside anymore?) he proposed a standard unit of 2.72′ (0.829 m) called the megalithic yard was used throughout Britain to measure everything from stone circles to cupmarks (the megalithic inch). His calendar is based on the Celtic quarter (solstices, equinoxes) and cross-quarter (Beltane, Samhain) calendar which I believe (like Druids) extended back to Stonehenge but his 16 months of 22, 23 or 24 days (based on declination histograms of astronomical alignments) strike me as over-complicated and unrealistic. I can definitely believe an 8 part year beginning at winter (Samhain followed by the winter solstice followed by Imbolc then the spring equinox) and going to summer (Beltane followed by the summer solstice then Lughnasad and the autumnal equinox) but his system and imposition of higher mathematics and modern astronomy onto the Stonehenge landscape leaves me cold. As you English say, he went a bit dotty over his ideas.

Austin May 5, 2013 at 10:07 pm

I apologise for digressing from the current discussionsmon this thread, but after watching the Timewatch documentary repeated this evening regarding the Darvill and Wainwright dig inside the stones in 2008 I have had a cursory google of their subsequent reports. An intriguing discovery was two of the radio carbon dates taken on holly charcoal discovered during the dig inside the stones which dated from later neolithic to early bronze age. In Celtic mythology, the Holly King ruled for the 6 months from the Summer to Winter solstice and the Oak King then defeated him to rule the six months from the Winter to Summer solstice. The Holly king being at the peak of his strength at midwinter.
Since Holly is so deeply entrenched in our psyche with midwinter and was clearly a tree that was revered by our ancestors…I dare to dream that these were the sprigs cut with that golden sickle .
Source: The Antiquaries Journal 89.mPublished 21 April 2009

…Always a joy to explore Eternal Idol, Dennis…and I too as a Henge addict find it odd that in my 51 years have never had a dream of the stones (not that I am conscious of).

Robin Melrose May 6, 2013 at 7:56 am

Thanks DanJ. Like you I can warm to the idea of a year divided into eight parts, but why 16? And as for Thom’s mathematical calculations… Not my strong suit, and my eyes glaze over when I try to read them.

Dennis May 6, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Austin, your contributions are always a real joy to read, while they go some great way towards making Eternal Idol a pleasurable reading experience for others. I’m greatly flattered by your kind words, so thank you once again for taking the time and the trouble to write in.

I wasn’t aware of the findings you mention and I doubt I’d have gone looking for them, either, but I was fascinated by what they were and even more fascinated by the conclusions you drew from them. I’m in entire agreement with you, while I don’t doubt that future exploration of potential treasure troves like Hawley’s Graves and Vespasian’s Camp will reveal even more compelling evidence.

I say this as a former archaeologist with the emphasis on the word ‘former’ – I’m in the fortunate position of being able to think out loud in this fashion and to be able to see “eternity in a grain of sand”, and so forth, a luxury sadly denied to most others currently working in archaeology.

As for not dreaming about Stonehenge, it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to over the last few years, while I’ve also looked into the nature of sleep and dreams as best I can. Every bit of logic and reason tells me that I should dream of Stonehenge frequently, but aside from an oblique reference in a series of recurring lucid dreams I’ve experienced over the last few years, I’ve not once dreamed of the place and I’m at a complete loss to explain or understand why that should be.

Dennis May 6, 2013 at 8:29 pm

I suppose this video from the BBC archives could have gone up on the Stonehenge news section, but I think it has a place here because it features a man who wrote a book on the Druids, along with another who described the original builders as “practically savages – howling barbarians”, while they both excavated/vandalised the site for well over a decade.

“O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive….”

Robin Melrose May 7, 2013 at 6:18 am

I’m probably just stating the bleeding obvious here, but if the Druids arose in the Neolithic, then their name makes more sense. The name is often interpreted as ‘oak-knowers’, and I’ve never really understood why the oak may have been so significant to them that it formed part of their name. But if you look at the Neolithic, large numbers of timber circles or palisades were built across Britain, and where the timber is known, it is invariably oak – and that includes Woodhenge and the timber circles at Durrington Walls. And while Stonehenge is obviously not made of oak, the sarsens were treated as if they were timber. I wonder if timber circles were more common than stone circles – does anyone have any figures?

Robin Melrose May 7, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Here is an interview with Euan Mackie on the Neolithic priestood (see http://www.orkneyjar.com/archaeology/2012/01/10/resurrecting-orkneys-neolithic-priesthood/). It’s in relation to the Ness of Brodgar, which sounds like a fascinating site (see http://www.orkneyjar.com/archaeology/nessofbrodgar/excavation-background-2/ – all the information is on the right hand side, under the heading About the Ness of Brodgar).

John Witts May 7, 2013 at 4:54 pm

What an excellent observation Robin. It is unlikely a survey of known wood v stone circles would be representative. However Burl says “At many megalithic rings especially in Scotland the circles have been found to stand on sites of earlier settings of posts. At the Sanctuary in Wiltshire four consecutive timber rings may have been put up and rotted before the concentric circles of stones were raised around 2300BC. Elsewhere in England other wooden rings have been discovered, at Woodhenge on Salisbury Plain, at Arminghall in Norfolk and at Bleasdake in Lancashire. Others lie undiscovered, their postholes invisible beneath the grass. In central Scotland the stone circle of Croft Moraig was preceded by a horseshoe of posts. Not far to the east Moncrieffe also had a ring of upright timbers. The damaged circle henge at Balfrag in Fife….is now known to lie on a site ‘where a massive timber circle …was probably associated with a number of rings of palisade fencing’ ”

I still feel that at the very least construction involving large timbers must provided some of the necessary skills and insights needed to complete what were later and more ambitious projects in stone. Anyway such an idea would fit nicely in with Druids as “oak-knowers”.

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