Archaeology has a history of treasure hunting and ignorance. This controversial view is best seen at a site I visited last weekend called Belas Knap in Gloucester.
|Belas Knap - quite amazing how archaeologists have never seen it as a boat!|
It is one of the 'best preserved' Long Barrows in the country and that is the reason that I have left it so long to see! I read 'best preserved' as 'completely remodelled' and to understand this statement you must know its history.
1863 - 1865 Mr. Lauriston Winterbotham & Mr. Joseph C. Chamberlayne / Cham-Berlayne Esq. (Land Owner) The first formal excavation of the barrow first took place between 1863 - 1864 and was carried out by Mr. L. Winterbotham. The work was continued in 1865 by Joseph Chamberlayne who owned the land on which the barrow was located. They initially discovered the remains of four skeletons including two skulls. The remains of five children and one adult male skull were later found behind the false entrance a further 26 skeletons were discovered in the additional chambers. Animal bones were also discovered as was a small amount of pottery. Overall the exploration was conducted in the style of the time which was far less careful and detailed than would be the standard expected by modern archaeologists - this equates to a bunch of 'navvy' workmen with pickaxes and a grand plan to find buried treasure. During the excavation it was also claimed that a circle of stones had been discovered within the mound along with a significant amount of ashes. It was this excavation that discovered the horns of the mound which, at some time in the past, had been filled in to conceal the false entrance.
|Bellas Knap diagram shows the so called 'horns'|
1890 Excavation and Restoration
Sadly, the original team left the site in a state of considerable disrepair and its initial restoration was carried out by Mrs Emma Dent of Sudeley Castle. She employed a number of local men to rebuild the walls and it was during this time that Albert Potter of Winchcombe discovered a large horizontal stone supported by several uprights under which was a single skeleton that had been placed in a seated position with its elbows resting on its knees. The restoration carried out by Mrs Dent was meticulous and later archaeologists commented that it was difficult to distinguish between the original construction and the restorations - except it was different stone of a different size.
|The 'so called False' entrance|
1928 - 1930 Sir James Berry & Mr. Wilfred James Hemp
The excavation that took place between 1928 - 1930 re-examined the findings of the original study carried out in 1863. From the report written by Wilfred Hemp it's clear to see that he was deeply upset by the poor records kept by Winterbotham and Chamberlayne and refers to the tomb as having been "violated". Hemp was unable to rediscover the stone circle or the ashes. However, he did discover the true shape and contour of the barrow which contributed significantly to the quality of its final restoration. it was also during this excavation that the idea was put forward that the long barrow had actually been constructed to enclose and incorporate several pre-existing but smaller barrows from an earlier period - which can only be guess work as little of the original remained.
|East side of Belas Knap showing the moat that surrounds the Long Barrow|
So, its a well known tale of treasure hunting and restoring of an object that they had no blue print, just an idea of how it should have looked, based on a burial mound. Therefore, you can see why I left it so long to visit. But to my surprise there is enough left to 'reconstruct' the reconstruction and allow us to new insight and proof of our hypothesis. As we have described in 'The Stonehenge Enigma' Long Barrows are boats to the afterlife, this Long Barrow gives us a clear indication of how the boats looked and designed with the 'galley' section to the rear of the boat, like canal long boats.
|A view prior to the restoration showing the scale of destruction by treasure hunter s/archaeologists|
A ditch is built around the construction, which would have filled with water, as at the time of construction the groundwater levels were higher than today. As in the West Kennet Long Barrow the rear entrance would have housed chambers for the dead to be laid out - this is of the same design but the destruction, has lead later archaeologists to reconstruct these chambers to the side rather than through the centre as West Kennet. In the centre of this chamber there would have been, it seems, a stone circle as shown on the diagram and the bodies of the dead.
But the most interesting find from the site was its skulls for the Victorians who were great 'cranial' observers noticed that:
"Craniologists of the time used a ratio based on length and width measurements, known as the cranial index, to divide skulls into two basic types: 'dolichocephalic', long and narrow in shape, and 'brachycephalic', broad and round in shape. Based on his observations at sites like Belas Knap, Thurnam established his famous axiom, 'long barrows, long skulls; round barrows, round skulls'. The long skulls were found in long barrows and never in association with metallic artefacts, while round skulls were found in round barrows sometimes with metalwork"
British Archaeology Mag 2002: www.britarch.ac.uk/ba/ba63/feat3.shtm
|Long Skulls with distinct eye ridges are Cro-Magnon|