Category: malcolmj - Part 9

London’s Earliest Timber Structure Discovered

As well, presumably, as a few meticulously dug escape tunnels, archaeologists excavating adjacent to Belmarsh Prison in Plumstead, Greenwich, have discovered what theyre describing as Londons earliest timber structure. Comprising a wooden platform or trackway, buried 4.7 metres deep in a peat bog, its been radiocarbon-dated at 6,000 years old. Thats 500 years earlier than Stonehenge, and about 700 years earlier than the previous oldest-known example the timber trackway discovered at Silverton dating to around 3340-2910 BC.

Whats so special about a very old plank of wood, you ask? For prehistoric Londoners, the wetlands surrounding the River Thames were a vital source of food. They would lay timber platforms or trackways across especially boggy patches to make them easier to cross. This one evidently sank, and thats exactly whats caused it to survive to this day peat bogs preserve organic matter, while most other environments tend to rot it away over long periods of time.

This new find may even just outdate the famous timber Sweet Track in the Somerset Levels an ancient causeway leading to Glastonbury, which has been described as the worlds oldest engineered road. The Plumstead wooden structure is therefore being hailed as one of the very earliest examples ever discovered in the British isles of humans adapting to the challenges of their natural environment.

The Plumstead wooden structure is being hailed as one of the very earliest examples ever discovered in the British isles of humans adapting to the challenges of their natural environment.

Diccon Hart, Senior Archaeologist at the organisation behind the dig, Archaeology South-East (part of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London), described the discovery as an incredibly exciting find, in a statement, before hailing his teams efforts. It is testament, he added, to the hard work and determination of those who toiled under very difficult conditions to unearth a rare and fascinating structure almost 6,000 years after it was constructed.

Other objects found during the excavation include an Early Bronze Age alder log complete with a remarkably well-preserved set of tools made with a metal axe. After undergoing some painstaking preservation work, these objects will eventually go on display in Greenwich Heritage Centre, Woolwich. Lab work will follow over the next couple of years, as the ASE team attempt to learn more about the fascinating structure and its time and environment.

Picture c/o Archaeology South-East. All rights reserved.

Scottish Archaeologists Invite Public to Visit “Textbook” Bronze Age Burial Site

A team of archaeologists, archaeology students and volunteers have made a major discovery in rural Perthshire, Scotland, and are opening it up to the public this Sunday.

The removal of a four ton sandstone slab, discovered last summer at Forteviot, revealed a meticulously constructed Bronze Age-period burial chamber, containing a number of metal and crucially organic remains. The tomb is thought to have belonged to a dignitary of significant importance who lived between around 2300 and 2100 BC, in a region rich with historical connections stretching from the Neolithic period through to medieval times.

The dig was headed up by Dr Gordon Noble of Aberdeen University one of two institutions, together with Glasgow University, lending its weight to the Strathearn Environs & Royal Forteviot (SERF) project, of which this excavation is a major part. Speaking to The Big Issue in Scotland, he summed up the significance of their discovery: None of us [working on the site] have ever come across anything like this before, he commented. Its the sort of site you read about in textbooks.

The human remains found laid on a bed of quartz pebbles and a woven birch bark lattice are a particularly unique find. Normally the Scottish soil and climate erodes all such material; on the rare occasions when traces are found, its usually by accident, so they therefore arent handled correctly. This excavation presented the rare occurrence of a major discovery of long-decayed grave wax human remains made under tightly-controlled conditions. The remains have the potential to speak volumes about the environment in which this mysterious individual lived and died. Other objects found in the tomb include a copper dagger with a leather scabbard, bits of a wooden bowl and a wooden and leather container.

It was no mean feat shifting a hulking stone slab in Bronze Age Scotland. Clearly only an individual of substantial repute would warrant such back-breaking labour.

The amount of blood, sweat and tears that must have been expended in making the chamber is, as with so many ancient-structures, a firm indicator of the social standing of the person for whom it was created. It was no mean feat shifting a hulking stone slab two metres-by-two metres wide and 40 centimetres thick in Bronze Age Scotland (the SERF team needed a heavy crane to aid them in lifting it). Clearly only an individual of substantial repute would warrant such back-breaking labour. Additionally, the slab bears some quite intricate engravings of a spiral and axe shape on the bottom (facing into the tomb), while the cist itself has been decorated with similar markings around where the head of the person buried there would have lain.

Inevitably, theres an urge to place this discovery within a wider historical context. The markings in the tomb bear a striking resemblance to similar engravings found at Kilmartin Glen in Argyll the site of a Neolithic timber henge dating from 2600BC which would dwarf Stonehenge according to Dr Kenneth Brophy of Glasgow University, another of SERFs project directors. Brophy agreed that the newly-discovered Bronze Age chamber was clearly the final resting place of someone highly significant, for better or for worse. Something, whether negative or positive, picked the individual in this cist burial out for this special treatment, he added, speaking too to The Big Issue in Scotland.

Forteviot is also believed to have been the site of a palace where one of the very first kings of a united Scotland, Kenneth MacAlpin, is buried. Is it purely coincidence that the burial site of another person of major social standing has been found at the same site, dating from 3,000 years before it became a major power centre in Scotland? Or is it evidence of some kind of distant continuity, stretching over the millennia? Decide for yourself by following the dig on the SERFblog, or heading along for a look theres an open day for the public at Forteviot on Sunday August 16.

Picture (c) SERF (Universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen). All rights reserved.

At Least It’s Not English: The Ancient Origins of the Haggis

A heated cross-border dispute has been rumbling the last few days over the origins of the humble haggis Scotlands national dish, famously memorialised as the great chieftain o the puddin race in Robert Burns 1787 Address To The Haggis. Its been sparked by historian Catherine Brown, who has attributed the delicacys origins to the Scots auld enemy, the English, on the basis of references to the dish shes recently discovered in a book called The English Hus-Wife, which was written in 1615 and thus predates Burns homage to stomach-cooked sheeps organs by 171 years.

Well, the Scots who in questions of cuisine, just as in questions of sport, ought to be able to bear losing so long as the English dont win can breathe easy again, because while we sadly arent able to reassure them that haggis is a Scottish invention after all, we can say with some certainty that neither is it attributable to their much-resented southern neighbours. The dishs origins in fact probably stretch as far back as Greek, Roman or Viking times, and maybe even further still.

The practice of salting a slaughtered animals entrails, packing them into its stomach and then boiling the whole thing for purposes of preservation is known to have been practiced widely by the Romans, who had a particular taste for food-stuffs of the sausage type. They may have exported the technique to southern Scotland and England, where it was picked up on by indigenous peoples and adapted to incorporate regional produce such as local mutton and oats.

In Homers Odyssey theres a reference to a primitive-sounding culinary contrivance that may well be an early ancestor of the haggis.

Theres evidence that the Romans possibly learned the method of haggis-making from their Hellenic-predecessors. In Homers Odyssey, which dates from the late 8th century BC, theres a reference to a primitive-sounding culinary contrivance that may well be an early ancestor of the haggis. Odysseus is at one point unflatteringly likened to a man before a great blazing fire turning swiftly this way and that a stomach full of fat and blood, very eager to have it roasted quickly.

Another theory, championed by English celebrity chef Clarissa Dickson Wright, suggests that the haggis in fact entered Scotland via a different route in a Scandinavian longship, centuries before modern Scotland was even formed. She backs up her case with the findings of 19th century etymologist Walter William Skeat, who pointed out that the hag part of the word may come from the Old Norse word hoggva, or the Old Icelandic word haggw (hggva in modern Icelandic). Both mean to hew in other words to chop up, a possible reference to the diced contents of the dish.

Because preservation of animal organs, which perish quickly, in pre-refrigerator times is the apparent essence of the dish, it seems possible that the haggis may even have been around since pre-history. So the Scots can rest easy. Although why if they really do dislike the English that much they dont just let them have a dish as appetising-sounding on paper as bloody bovid heart, liver and lungs mashed and cooked in the beast’s own belly isn’t entirely clear.

Haggis picture by Zoonabar c/o Wikimedia Commons.

Forest Conservation Practiced by the Ancient Maya?

The ancient Maya civilization of Central South America apparently understood acutely how their fate was inextricably linked with that of the forest around them. New research at the site of Tikal in modern Guatemala, by a team from the University of Cincinnati led by paleoethnobotanist David Lentz, has discovered that during the Classic period (c. 250 AD to 900 AD), the Maya practiced a form of forest conservation. Further, the team have speculated that when the practice ceased, it may have had grave consequences for Maya society.

They were not allowed to cut down what were calling the sacred groves, says Lentz, speaking to Journal of Archaeological Science. From our research we have learned that the Maya were deliberately conserving forest resources. Their deliberate conservation practices can be observed in the wood they used for construction and this observation is reinforced by the pollen record.

The practice appears to have been abandoned in the Late Classic period, with the ascendancy of a powerful new leader, Jasaw Chan Kawiil. The Tikal Maya had been beaten up and had fallen to second-rate status prior to his ascendancy, Lentz explains. Jasaw Chan Kawiil led an army to the heartland of a competing city, Calakmul, captured their ruler, bound him, brought him back and sacrificed him and it totally reversed their fortunes in a very dramatic way.

The Maya forests provided timber, fuel, food, fiber and medicine in addition to the ecosystem services of cleansing the air and water. — Professor David Lentz, University of Cincinnati.

The Tikal Maya were top dogs again, and they decided to reflect it in the building of spectacular new temples that required very specific types of long, straight trees able to bear the weight of thousands of tones of stones. The sacred groves some of which contained stands of timber as old as 200 years were plundered, to the extent that new copses had to be planted altogether sometime prior to the building of the final temple, Temple III or Temple of the Jaguar Priest, around 810 AD.

By that stage, things had started to go awry for the Tikal Maya again, and the whole city was abandoned by around the 10th century. Why so? Perhaps, suggests Lentz, because the delicate balance of the forest eco-system had been upset by such heavy deforestation, which was further accelerated by the Maya cutting down trees for firewood and choking the air with carbon dioxide.

When you clear all the forests, it changes the hydrologic cycle, says Lentz. The world is like a flat surface with all the trees acting as sponges on it. The trees absorb the water. Without the trees, there is no buffer to stop the water from runoff. That causes soil erosion, which then chokes the rivers and streams. With no trees, you lose water retention in the soil or aquifers so the ground dries up and then there is less transpiration, so therefore less rainfall as well.

Naturally, there are important lessons to be learned by the Tikal Maya experience. Forests provide many benefits to society, says Lentz. The Maya forests provided timber, fuel, food, fiber and medicine in addition to the ecosystem services of cleansing the air and water. Just as forests provided essential resources for the ancient Maya, the same is true for our civilization today.

The University of Cincinnati teams research is the first major work carried out at Tikal in over 40 years, and is unique in that it is focused on the economic, agricultural, social and cultural practices of the Maya, rather than the fate and fortunes of the ruling classes, as is often the norm. They plan to return to the site in February 2010, and hopefully find some answers as to when deforestation occurred, what trees were used when and where the sacred groves were located.

Tikal picture (top) by Hansjoerg Klein; Tikal picture (bottom) by Reinhard Jahn, c/o Wikimedia Commons. All rights reserved.

Scottish Archaeology Month

The Festival of British Archaeology takes place across the UK throughout the summer. North of the border, it has a separate incarnation in the shape of Scottish Archaeology Month, which runs from August through September. Scotland is, after all, home to many of Britains finest archeaological treasures from Skara Brae to the Antonine Wall so it seems only appropriate.

SAM aims to make archeology as accessible as possible with a programme of mostly free events celebrating Scotlands rich antiquarian heritage. You dont need to be Indiana Jones to get involved folks of all ages and abilities are invited, right down to kids, who get their very own special sub-festival, SAM for Schools. SAM is also linked with Doors Open Days Scotland.

In 2009, the festival celebrates its 10th birthday. To help you choose from the many treasures waiting to be accessed, weve put together a handy top 10 of Scottish Archeaology Month events well worth digging up.

1. Hands On Archaeology @ Bennachie Homecoming Festival
Bennachie Centre, Aberdeenshire, August 7-9
Scottish archeaologists, in association with Forestry Commission Rangers, will treat participant to a hands-on demonstration of what being an archeaologist is really all about. Before you ask: no, it doesnt involve wearing a fedora, cracking a whip and battling Nazis.

2. Archaeology in Angus
Angus Signal Tower, Arbroath, Angus, September 7-30
Many fine treasures have been unearthed in the Angus area of northern Scotland, including coins of Kings James III, IV and VI and a 15th century fede fidelity ring. This temporary exhibition show many of these fine and important pieces daily throughout September.

3. Theres a Time and a Place Montrose Time Line
Montrose Museum and Art Gallery, Montrose, Angus, September 1-October 31
The town of Montrose and its surrounding area has a rich past stretching all the way back to the Stone Age. As part of SAM, this special exhibition will display a time line, tied in with artefacts and events, illustrating the history of the region.

4. Crail Guided Walk
Crail Museum, Crail, Fife, September 6
The small East Neuk of Fife fishing village of Crail is overflowing with history some of it ancient, some of it more recent. This guided walk by local experts will take in sites from the famous stone harbour to the nearby airfield, covering seafaring traditions, local folklore and architecture.

5. Search for Vikings within a Bronze Age Landscape
Latheron, Caithness, September 12
The Wag of Forse in Caithness dates back to the Iron Age, but it has been occupied multiple times. This walk will explore the site in search of later-period Viking cattle sheds. Waterproofs and strong shoes are a must.

6. Birnie Excavations Open Day
Birnie, near Elgin, Moray, September 13
Archeaological investigations at Birnie have uncovered a site of Iron Age and Pictish origins, which was once a powerful regional centre with strong links to the Romans. This open day will give a fascinating insight into the ongoing work there.

7. Gunnister Man Exhibition and Events
The New Shetland Museum and Archives, Lerwick, Shetland, September 12-November 1
The Gunnister Man who is believed to have died a mysterious death around 1700 was discovered in 1951, by men digging for peat in a Northmavine, Shetland. Although little of his remains survived, his clothing and possessions have, and theyll go on display for the first time at this exhibition.

8. The Secret of Gray Mares Tail
Near Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, September 13
Taking place in the South West Scotland countryside surrounding the spectacular hanging valley waterfall Gray Mares Tale, this walk will take in an Iron Age fort, Bronze Age cairns and hiding spots used by 17th century covenanters.

9. Schools Only Event: Archaeologists at Work

Stanley Mill, Perthshire, September 16, 17, 23 & 24
At this schools only event, budding young archeaologists will get a chance to become time detectives and use real tools and techniques to help piece together the past of the Stanley Mill on the River Tay.

10. Animals in Archaeology
Dundee Museum, Dundee, September 19
As well as being a study of human history, archeaology is often about the examination of animal remains. This handling session will focus on animal remains found on archaeological digs throughout Scotland.

Check out the Archaeology Scotland website for further details on all of these events and more.

Birnie dig photo by Veganfamily; all rights reserved.

Ancient World Movies: Box Office Smashes and Flops

The ancient world has long been lucrative business at the box office, ever since the original Fred Niblo-directed version of Ben-Hur burst onto the big screen in 1925, in a flurry of shameless promotional activity (the films strapline was: The Picture Every Christian Ought to See!) and famously brutal chariot crashes (some cast and crew were seriously hurt in the pictures spectacular climactic smash a genuine on-set accident that was ruthlessly left in the final cut). At a cost of $4 million by modest estimates, itremains the most expensive silent movie ever made, one that proved a $9 million box office hit (equal to about $100 million today), if a disaster for its backers MGM, who never recouped their investment in the picture.

The fact was clear: Hollywood depictions of the gore, glamour and epic drama of the ancient world were appropriately almighty undertakings that could yield immense riches for those movie-makers who took on the challenge and won. On the flipside, historical mega-productions could potentially ruin those whose pictures for one reason or another didnt measure up to expectations.

The Numbers

According to statistics posted on the box office data and analysis website The Numbers, from Ben-Hur in 1925 up to the most recent ancient world movie to date 2009 Chinese epic Red Cliff 40 major features set in the time frame 6499 BC to 800 AD have between them earned a staggering worldwide box office gross of $4,183,517,418 ($1,898,261,490 in the US alone), on a combined budget of $1,653,650,000 roughly enough to build the Great Pyramid of Giza, at modern costs, five and a half times over. Thats an average gross earning of $134,952,175 per film, at an average cost of $51,676,563. It hardly requires stating that those are some big numbers.

The Hits

So which commanded the largest slice of the box office? 1960 epic Spartacus surely? Its a classic, but it comes only a mere 15th place in the rankings, with a $60 million gross on a then-massive $12 million budget. Gladiator maybe? Ridley Scotts bloody blockbuster from 2000 is up there with the biggies at almost $458 million gross on a budget of $103 million, yet it still only makes it into third spot. The Life of Brian perhaps? Okay, never a contender, but the Monty Python teams 1979 absurdist Biblical satire did fare impressively, earning $36 million worldwide at the cost of a mere $4 million.

The most lucrative ancient world movie ever made beating its nearest opponent Troy by a cool $115 million is actually Mel Gibsons New Testament tale of the final days of Jesus, The Passion of the Christ, which took a staggering $611,899,420 and change at the box office in 2004, on a budget of just $25 million. Thats more than a 2400% return, despite quite incredibly the film being non-English language (its mainly in Aramaic) and it receiving an R-rating in the States for its various extremely violent and gory moments.

The Flops

Its tempting to conclude that big JC clearly sells, but a quick look at the losers on the list suggests that that’s not always the case. The Last Temptation of Christ earned Martin Scorsese an Academy Award nomination for Best Director in 1988, but the film only just broke even, earning $8.4 on a $7 million investment. The Greatest Story Ever Told was nominated for five Oscars in 1965, yet ended up scuppering the making of other biblical epics for years to come after achieving only a $15.5 million return on a $20 million investment.

1964 swords and sandals mega-production The Fall of The Roman Empire lined up stars galore, from Sophia Loren to Stephen Boyd and Alec Guinness, yet the film didnt even come close to recouping its $20 million budget, taking only a meagre $4.75 million in the US (bankrupting producer Samuel Bronston). Thats small fries compared to the biggest ancient-world-movie-disaster of them all, however: Oliver Stone’s 2004 turkey Alexander, which took a pitiful $34 million gross in the USafter wracking up a $155 million bill for production costs (that’s an eye-watering loss of $121 million!). It still ranks as the biggest American box office bomb of all time, even if it did manage to recoup its losses with international sales of $132 million. You have to wonder whether Warner Bros considered throwing Stone to the lions.

Financial figures by The Numbers.

Spinal Tap Bring Stonehenge to Glastonbury

Spinal Tap

(Mostly) fictional English rock band Spinal Tap made a much-anticipated come back at the Glastonbury music festival last weekend, followed swiftly by their 25th anniversary One Night Only World Tour show at Londons Wembley Arena on Tuesday. The bands magnum opus remains Stonehenge, their mystical hard rock mini-opera tribute to Salisburys millennia-old Neolithic masterpiece, “Where a man’s a man, and the children dance to the pipes of pan.”

A performance of the song made for a memorable scene in the movie This Is Spinal Tap, featuring midgets dancing around – and threatening to crush – an 18 inch high megalith, after the notoriously soft-brained band confused inches with feet in their dimensions for the stage prop. “This tended to understate the hugeness of the object,” as singer David St. Hubbins rightly points out in the ensuing argument with their manager.

Guitarist Nigel this amp goes up to 11 Tufnel remains fascinated by the monument, and has a few, ahem, interesting theories to add to the debate about its origins, such as how many men it really took to build it (just one, “Duncan”) and what materials they used (wood and dinosaur saliva). Just don’t mention aliens…

You can hear them in the below interview Tufnel gave for National Geographics TV special Stonehenge: Decoded in 2008. He looks like hes suffered pretty badly from the ravages of the ages himself, but then rock stars will.

Stonehenge was an amplifier originally. Of course it was an amplifier.

Image by wonker.

Making Sweet Music Aurignacian-Style

Stone Age man in a cave in south-west Germany 35,000 years ago really knew how to party it seems. Not only has an example of pre-historic porn been found in the cave of Hohle Fels, near the town of Schelklingen in the region of Swabia, but now too a portion of a thin rudimentary flute carved from bird bone which experts are calling unambiguously the oldest musical instrument in the world.

Its not the first such example found in the cave, which is an ongoing source of spectacular archaeological finds dating from the Aurignacian culture of the Upper Paleolithic period. A bone flute and two fragments of ivory flutes were uncovered there last year, while a three-hole mammoth ivory-carved flute plus two flutes made from the wing bones of a swan were excavated at another site nearby a few years ago. But this latest find made in September 2008 and revealed to the public just this week is by far the most complete of the musical instruments so far recovered from the caves.

Measuring almost 22 centimetres long and 2.2 centimetres wide, it was carved from the bone of a griffon vulture (the remains of many of which have been found in the area) and includes the end of the instrument into which the Stone Age musician would have blown, as marked by two deep V-shaped indents. It has five holes, each of which bears the engraving of a fine line nearby. Part of the flute has been snapped off; judging by the average length of griffon bones, we can assume that perhaps as much as another eight centimetres of the instrument is missing.

Independent radiocarbon tests carried out in England and Germany led scientists to agree that the artefact is as much as 35,000 years old 5,000 years older than the next oldest known example yet found. Homo sapiens are believed to have settled extensively in the region about 40,000 years ago, which was 10,000 years before the extinction of Neanderthals although the instrument has been firmly attributed to the Homo sapiens.

Other artefacts found in the cave point to further examples of creative expression from its Stone Age residents. As mentioned above, a small erotic figurine was discovered there recently too, in sediment just a few metres away from the spot of the flute. Various cave drawings have been found on the caves walls too, along with multiple stone and ivory artefacts, flint-knapping debris and bones of hunted animals.

We can now conclude that music played an important role in Aurignacian life in the Ach and Lone valleys, commented Nicholas Conard, a professor at the University of Tubingen, which has been leading research at Hohle Fels. It has been speculated that it would have served as a means of social bonding or as a simple celebration post-hunt for Hohle Fels’ pre-historic tenants. The bone flute is far too fragile to play, but a wooden replica has been tested extensively apparently its possible to perform the opening bars of the Star Spangled Banner. Great, but do you have something we can dance to?

What Did Stonehenge Look Like?

Think of Stonehenge and it immediately conjures up a number of strong visual images the huge, iconic sarsen stone trilithons, naked hippies at summer solstice, weird druid guys with big hoods and a legendary scene from This Is Spinal Tap.

But what did it actually look like in its day? Its widely assumed that Stonehenge once stood as a magnificent ‘complete’ monument, but we need to bear in mind that this cant actually be proved about half of the stones that should be present are missing, and many of the assumed stone sockets have never actually been recorded through excavation. Experts suggest that the monuments construction spanned anything from 1500 to 6500 years, and took place over at least three separate major phases. Which ought we to consider as Stonehenges quintessential era?

Stage 1

The first stage, around 3100 BC, we can comfortably discount as not representing the monument at its finest. Then it simply comprised an earthwork of ditches, pits and banks that may have contained a few standing timbers (although no trace of them has been found), but otherwise wouldnt have offered particularly striking viewing, relatively speaking. It was abandoned for about 1000 years before the next major phase of construction began.

Stage 2

The second stage, circa 2600 BC, was much more dramatic. It was then that some 82 giant bluestones were assumed to have been dragged, slid and floated 240 miles from the Preseli Mountains in south-west Wales to Gloucestershire, and then stood in pits (only some of which have been located) to form incomplete concentric rings around the site. At the same time, the north eastern entrance was also widened to precisely match the direction of the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset, and a large sandstone Heelstone was erected at the entrance. The result would undoubtedly have been stunning to see, but still paled in comparison with what was to come next.

Stage 3

It was around 2400 BC that the greatest building project in ancient Britain really got going. 30 enormous Oligocene-Miocene sarsen stones were brought to the site, probably from a quarry about 25 miles away, and then erected in a 33-metre diameter trilithon horseshoe. Bluestones appear to have later been slotted within (a hint to their symbolic importance), before another, massive circle of shorter stone trilithons enclosed the whole thing, and a mysterious ring of pits was dug on the outer edge of the site. This was Stonehenge at its very finest an expansive, awe-inspiring construction. Yet, the heyday of the monument lasted for only around 500 years, until about 1900 BC. The next four millennia saw the structure fall into a long, slow period of disrepair and disuse, suffering theft, neglect and the withering effects of time and nature, until all that was left was the iconic bare bones of the structure, which today only hint at Stonehenges former magnificence.

Another idea

Some other, more outlandish theories hexist as to the appearance of Stonehenge at its apogee (there are always outlandish theories at hand when it comes to Stonehenge). One recent suggestion, by inventor Bruce Bedlam, is that the monument actually comprised the stone pillars of an overarching timber building, which had a tiled roof and a glass cap, kind of like the Millennium Dome of its day. In terms of agonisingly protracted construction period, crazily elaborate design and general head-scratching puzzlement as to what, exactly, it was built for in the first place anyway, that seems like an appropriate analogy.

Stonehenge: Reloaded

A Flint Michigan ex-construction worker with too much time on his hands has solved a 5,000 year old conundrum by proving how it was possible for Neolithic man to erect with nowt but his bare hands, gravity and a lot of patience Stonehenge. Well, sort of.

The appropriately named Wally Wallington, who apparently has a passion for moving heavy items, is presently building his very own replica of the legendary standing stones in his back yard. Hes doing it using a variety of elementary techniques that he believes prove Stonehenge could have been built in far less time than modern experts estimate the most drastic figures being as high as 20 million man hours (not counting the 40 million hours presumably taken in tea breaks).

In this video he demonstrates some of these techniques, such as rolling, spinning and tipping big stones. He finishes with the ultimate party piece standing a block the weight of two bulldozers on end, in front of an assembled crowd, using a humble garden hose.

Definitely dont try this at home, kids.