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When Martin Bates left his geophysical equipment to take its readings and wandered down to the beach at Happisburgh he made a remarkable discovery. An old clay bed recently exposed by the sea was pockmarked with footprints. This trail has proven to be the earliest trace of a human journey in Europe, providing a powerful glimpse of life in Britain almost one million years ago. Mysterious hollows of another kind were detected at Maryport in 1870. They were long thought to be ritual receptacles for Roman altars, but recent investigation revealed that these pits were monumental postholes. What can this edifice tell us about the community living at Maryport as imperial control ebbed away?
Another group active as Roman Britain imploded were the Picts. It is well known that these fearsome fighters also had an artistic side. Now excavations in a field at Rhynie that yielded a fine crop of ornate symbol stones are exposing a possible royal centre ringed by a formidable defensive system. Monumental enclosures are not thin on the ground at Thornborough in Yorkshire, where three henges were built straddling the course of a cursus. Recent study of its setting has transformed our understanding of the prehistoric landscape, and raised the question of whether the henges drew inspiration from the stars in Orion’s belt.
The origin of ‘onyx marble’, a seemingly sumptuous stone gracing some of England’s most spectacular cathedrals, was also a renowned mystery. Now that its highly unconventional source has been unmasked, it is difficult to see this elegant architecture in quite the same way.
Our contributors this month
MARYPORT’S MYSTERY MONUMENTS IAN HAYNES AND TONY WILMOTT Ian is Professor of Archaeology at Newcastle University, and author of Blood of the Provinces. Tony is a former CA Archaeologist of the Year, and author of The Roman Amphitheatre in Britain.
A VERY ROYAL PLACE GORDON NOBLE Gordon is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen. The department specialises in the Archaeology of the North, and Gordon works on sites in Scotland ranging from the Mesolithic to the 19th century.
GOSSENSTEIN TIM TATTON-BROWN Tim started digging 50 years ago, and has a Roman archaeology degree from the Institute of Archaeology in London. He was director of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust from 1975-1985, and then became a freelance architectural historian.
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