Seahenge


On the beach at what is now Holme-next-the-Sea in the spring of 2050 BCE, a very large oak tree was felled and its stump was half-buried with the roots uppermost. About a year later, some smaller oaks were felled and from these 56 posts were cut. These were arranged in a circle around the upturned, central stump. This Bronze-Age monument, described by some archaeologists as being one of the most significant ever discovered, may have formed a type of ceremonial site - possibly with astronomical overtones. An alternative suggestion is that it may have been a site of 'excarnation' where, after death, bodies would be exposed to the elements to hasten the process of decomposition and help the spirit on its way to the afterlife.

Eventually the sea claimed the land where the circle stood and the people who built it were long forgotten. There were no records that it ever existed until, almost 4,000 years after it was built, the ever shifting sands off the East Anglian coast reformed and revealed the structure once again to the eyes of man. The amazing structure was soon christened 'Seahenge' and became famous as Druids and modern-day pagans objected, including sit-in protests, against the decision by English Heritage to dig up the whole structure, remove it from the beach and preserve it.



Seahenge, Holme-next-the-Sea beach. Photo by John Sayer at The Cereologist www.sayer.abel.co.uk
Photo by John Sayer at The Cereologist

After much debate the future of the henge was decided and in the summer of 1999, and after being precisely photographed, measured and recorded, it was finally removed to the Flag Fen Bronze Age Centre, near Peterborough. Whilst undergoing a preservation process the ancient timbers were subjected to detailed tree-ring dating (dendrochronology) and carbon-dating. Using these well-tested dating techniques a precise date was determined for the felling of the trees that make up the circle. From three possible dates obtained by the tree-ring analysis, and after taking into account the carbon dating tests, the experts were left with just the one date - 2050 BCE. The actual time of year was further narrowed down to between April and June when it was discovered from tree-ring examination that the main stump had been felled in the spring.

Following a £1.2 million redevelopment the Lynn Museum in King's Lynn is now home to about half of the original timbers which are displayed in surroundings designed to replicate the beach site where they were discovered. There is also a life size replica of the Bronze Age circle. The entire display is accompanied by a free audio guide and interactive features which provide information about the people who created the monument and the details revealed by a study of the timbers.

Now, more than ten years after the initial discovery of the henge, experts at the Mary Rose Trust in Portsmouth have completed the complex task of preserving the timbers. The water has been replaced with a synthetic wax so that the wood will not deteriorate further when exposed to the air. The stump, about 2.5 metres high and the same across and weighing more than a tonne, is now on display to the public in the Lynn Museum. Special work has been carried out at the museum so that visitors will be able to walk around about half of the original timbers, which will stand beside the full size replicas, with the hugh central stump completing the scene.

Information is available on the website of the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service and a comprehensive Information Sheet could also be useful.

More reading at:
Explore Norfolk UK.
Norfolk Museums Service - Information sheet. (This is a PDF document).

News of the second Seahenge!

In the first few days of July, 2014 the world was made aware that research by Norfolk County Council’s historic environment team has confirmed that a second timber circle on the beach at Holme-next-the-Sea was made from trees felled in the first half of 2049 BCE - the same year as the first circle which was excavated in 1998-9.

This second ancient circle was discovered at the same time as the more famous Seahenge but unlike its sister was never excavated and was left intact at its original coastal location and fully exposed to the elements of sea and weather.

Seahenge, Holme-next-the-Sea beach. Photo by NPS Archaeology - February 2003

Photo by NPS Archaeology - February 2003

Whilst the second circle was temporarily revealed it was seen to be made up of four elements. There were two oak logs laid flat at its centre. These were surrounded by oak posts forming an oval with oak branches inter-woven between them. To the east of the monument was an arc of split oak timbers. Finally, surrounding all this was an outer palisade of split oak timbers, with the timbers set side by side.

Since its first disovery this 'sister of Seahenge' has gradually deteriorated due to the action of wind and waves and this erosion has been monitored. Fortunately dendrochronology tests (tree ring dating) were carried out before the evidence was lost forever.

Further reading:
Norfolk County Council.