Seahenge

Updated Wednesday 21st July 2010

It's not a henge - and it wasn't meant to be in the sea...

Seahenge was revealed when a peat dune had eroded to reveal a Bronze Age circle of wooden posts with an extraordinary centrepiece.

An ellipse of fifty-five oak posts surrounded a massive oak trunk, inverted so that its roots created a platform.

Contemporary with Stonehenge, the site soon became known as ‘Seahenge’. However, it is neither a henge nor did its creators intend it to be in the sea.

Archaeologists define henges by the presence of a ditch and bank, creating an enclosure, often with post-built structures inside it. But Seahenge wasoriginally built on marshy, fresh-water ground,without the enclosure.

Its location saved it from natural decay; firstly, because the waterlogged ground preserved the timbers in their post-holes and secondly, because peat growth sealed over the above-ground timber. The wood was able to be very closely dated to being felled in the spring of around 2049 BCE.

Seahenge, partway through excavation Copyrighted image Icon Copyrighted image Copyright: Picture Esk, used under CC-BY-NC licence.
Seahenge, partway through excavation [Image: Picture Esk under CC-BY-NC licence]

It is possible that the posts were carved – laserscans have revealed tool marks from very early bronze axes. Two posts, one split and one forked,were carefully positioned opposite each other. So good was the preservation that a rope made of twisted honeysuckle survived with the central oak trunk.

Though no human remains were found, one interpretation of the stump is as a platform for exposing a dead body. Excarnation is the practice of allowing a body to decompose before gathering up the bones for burial, a practice used since prehistory and in cultures across the globe. Seahenge is the best preserved timber circle in the UK.

In order to preserve the wood, English Heritage arranged for the 'henge' to be taken to Flag Fenn, fifty miles along the coast, where it could be kept constantly moistened.

The removal was not, however, without difficulty - local people objected to the removal of part of their heritage, while New Age Travellers felt the removal of the wood was desecrating a sacred site, and mounted a guard in an attempt to stop the work.

Later, the wood would be moved again, to Portsmouth, where the team working on the preservation of the Mary Rose helped prolong the life of the timbers. They are now on display in the Lynn Museum.

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