Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bleasdale Circle: Part Two

Where were we? Ah yes, the Bleasdale urns. All three of them were made from local boulder clay mixed with grit so that they’d keep their shape. In the words of Shadrach Jackson himself:

They were very soft when found and were coated both inside and out with small rootlets.


As we’ve mentioned before (in the previous half of this article to be exact) archaeology back in Victorian times was an extremely destructive, not to say hit and miss, science. As soon as the urns were exposed to the air the clay, unfortunately, began to harden, rapidly becoming brittle enough to warrant expert attention. So the urns were sent to Liverpool Museum for treatment and didn’t emerge again until 1970, only to be hauled back to the Harris in Preston where, as far as we know, they’re still in residence to this day.

Full of archaeological fever by now, good old Shadrach set about the rest of the inner henge, recording as he went that he’d found:

...a circle of eleven oak logs placed upright on the inside of the log platform at the bottom of the ditch.


The ditch, of course, surrounds the tumulus (well, I say ‘of course…I’m actually having a bit of difficulty following this lot myself) and measures five and a half feet across at the mouth, three feet six inches across at the bottom and three feet in depth. It was lined with birch poles.

Want to see a photograph of the birch poles? Well you can’t, because we haven’t got one. However, we did draw up the following illustration based on a photograph taken at the time, so that’ll have to do.



There are only a couple of these poles left in existence now. God knows what happened to the rest of them, but the Harris Museum is still holding onto a couple. The last we heard they were going to use some scientific analysis or other in an attempt to accurately date them or something, but we never heard the results so, presumably, the boffins never actually got round to doing it.

Somewhat annoyingly, those two poles are the only remains of Bleasdale Circle nowadays at all. After he’d completed his ‘excavation’, Shadrach Jackson then pulled off one of the most bizarre stunts in archaeological history. (At least he did as far as we’re concerned.) For reasons best left between him and his psychiatrist, he removed all the stumps from their nice moist moss (the only thing that had been keeping them stable and fresh for the previous several thousands years), left them all on the ground exposed to the elements (which, in effect meant that, within no time at all, they’d completely rotted away) and then set about planting the entire site with fir cones and rhododendron shrubs.

The net result – one totally knackered site, as the photograph below helps demonstrate.



All right, it’s been tidied up a bit since Shadrach Jackson came over all Gertrude Jekyll, and, yes I know, it’s not the greatest photograph ever, but it’ll have to do because I’m far too busy at the moment to cycle back up there for a clearer shot.

As you’ve probably gathered the missing posts nowadays have been replaced by replicas, otherwise visitors would be greeted by the extremely disappointing sight of just a hump in the ground.

The only other possibly significant artefacts noted by Jackson were:

...a few broken slabs of sandstone which may have been used for crushing corn or for fire places.

Varley didn’t bother mentioning them at all in his report, presumably dismissing them as insignificant. One slab in particular though caught our eye. We’ve drawn up the picture of it below to see what you reckon.



Jackson, himself, eventually dismissed his original idea, as clearly Bleasdale Circle wasn’t a place of habitation. To be honest, the slab looks like a small monolith to us -- one that’s fallen over, obviously. There was something similar I seem to recall on some episode of Time Team where they were digging a small henge in Scotland.

All of which preamble brings us to the question: “What exactly was Bleasdale Circle built for?

And the answer is: “We haven’t got a clue.

There are dozens of theories, of course. If you align the third post from the entrance anti-clockwise with a sheep in the field next door then it creates exactly the same alignment as John Lennon’s left foot did on the cover of Abbey Road in relation to the sun above the chimneystack. No doubt somebody will tell us their own particular hypothesis…and we’ll probably just ignore them because, the truth is, it’s all just guesswork regardless.

What we can tell you is that a number of books and documents have definitely got things wrong – not just the theories, but the facts upon which the theories were based. Jessica Lofthouse, for example, wrote in her 1946 book ‘Three Rivers’ that:

...at Bleasdale there had been a Bronze Age strath, or stockaded village...Within the stockade were smaller huts of serfs, store huts and outside some of them had been found blackened circles denoting hearths for fires.


Needless to say she was misinformed. According to Varley’s excavation report:

The area between the outer palisade and the inner structure contained nothing whatsoever.

Even Shadrach mentioned that:

The only other human relic found within this (the inner) circle was a mass of charcoal four feet to the west of the group of urns.


No mention in either excavation was ever made of ‘burnt areas’ situated in the larger circle or, indeed, any evidence of other buildings anywhere on the site. Bleasdale Circle wasn’t a village by any stretch of the imagination, consisting of only one possible building contained within a circular fence.

The only real clues to Bleasdale Circle’s original purpose seem to lie in its location, at the heart of a natural amphitheatre created by the fells. It’s an atmospheric place, all right, and well worth a visit.

To finish off, here’s a view of the view from the back door.



Again, the photograph’s a bit on the naff side, being rather blurred and shrunk in the wash, but it’ll have to do for now.

8 comments:

Bwca Brownie said...

Those are the most beautifully-drawn oak logs I have ever seen.
10/10 dear B.

Of course the historic items were mistreated - England has so much of the stuff it's easy to not care.

Iranians demolish tiled C11th mosques all the time.

Is that natural amphitheatre designated Crown Land - no cropping or grazing evident.

Looks bushfire-proof too.
peace and love

John said...

Another most excellent post! Bravo!! Would love to see more of Bleasedale circle, and other prehistorics stuffs.

JOHN :0)

wv = morsicad sounds like an evil sorcerer!

Brian Hughes said...

Annie,

"Those are the most beautifully-drawn oak logs I have ever seen."

That's a pity, because they're supposed to be birch poles.

"Is that natural amphitheatre designated Crown Land - no cropping or grazing evident."

Nope...I think (although I could be wrong) that it's owned by the Duke of Westminster (or somebody). Grouse rearing land. The Queen and Greek Phil like to pop up there for a spot of mindless killing every couple of years. There are usually a few sheep wandering about, but they're generally chased off before the inbreds arrive with their double barrelled shotguns.

John,

There's a bit more of it here, along with a few tales from happy travellers who've stumbled across it on their journies.

John said...

Cheers, Brian,

Was there ever any mention of just how many sandstone slabs there were? I mean, how can he just assume they were for grinding corn or something? If there were a dozen slabs, then yeah, maybe a stone circle theory could be presented for inestigation. On the subject, are there other stone circles out there made of similar sandstone? As I've said in the past, I think UK archeologists need to look at the entier landscape to sometimes solve local puzzles.

A stone circle would be something very interesting to investigate, if there is enough of the site undisturbed. Then again, the site is interesting enough to merit one of those deep sonar thingies to map it out.

Just don't let anyone put forth the theory the sandstone slab was used for sacrifices... utter nonsense, that is. Innit?

JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...

John,

It's a long time since I read the excavation reports, but (as far as I can remember) when we visited Bleasdale Circle there was only one slab there...and there was only one recorded in Shardrach's report.

Danielle might provide some more answers soon because (again if memory serves) she'll be digging at Bleasdale Circle this summer. I'm not sure if there's anything left to dig...but presumably there is, otherwise she wouldn't be doing it. On the other hand I might have been misinformed. I'll keep you updated on that one.

John said...

Brian,

Are there any mentions of Bleasdale Circle in antiquity, meaning, is it mentioned on really old maps or stories? The reason I ask is if the circle was well known, and not too isolated from past civilisation, then, like Stonehenge, the stones would most likely be carted off for other uses.

Of course, this is all supposition based on one stone and a spotty archeological report, and a site that has been disturbed. It would take some really careful work to explore the site, and some of that sonar stuff, whatever it's called. I'm too tired to remember, but I definitely would love to hear what a modern investigation turns up.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS Sale went through today. I am now homeless!

Jayne said...

What the bleeding heck was Shadrach thinking to do that to those posts?!
Is sandstone found naturally in that area or was it possibly brought in for what ever Goddess they were waltzing about for?
Has anyone had a peek under the slab/monolith to see if it's not a covering for a grave like a cist?
Could the charcoal have been a funeral/sacrificial pyre of some sort, burnt elsewhere and then brought to the henge with whoever was bbq-ed?

Brian Hughes said...

John,

"Are there any mentions of Bleasdale Circle in antiquity...?"

Nope...old Shardrach was the first to know about it. Well...not the first, obviously. Whoever built it would have been the first, but you know what I mean.

"...the stones would most likely be carted off for other uses."

As far as I'm aware the broken sandstone slab is/was the only stone on the site. Like I say, though, it does remind me of the single standing stone at the Scottish henge that Time Team had a go at digging up a few years back, although their henge was only an iddy biddy thing by comparison.

"I am now homeless!"

Better get some batteries for your laptop then, otherwise you'll miss the next article.

Jayne,


"What the bleeding heck was Shadrach thinking...?"

Supper's nearly ready and I can't be bothered tidying up?

"Is sandstone found naturally in that area...?"

Nope...at least I don't think so. Michelle's the geologist. I'll ask her when she gets home from work just to be on the safe side.

"Has anyone had a peek under the slab...?"

I suspect Danielle will be doing that...under strict supervision of course.

"Could the charcoal have been a funeral/sacrificial pyre...?"

Seems a good theory to me. The trouble is, back in Shardrach's day they had no way of dating or analysing charcoal and stuff like what we do now, so there's no way of knowing.

I'll be intrigued to see what Danielle turns up this summer...working on the assumption that she is excavating Bleasdale Circle again, of course, and I didn't just mishear her somewhere down the lines.