Tag Archives: Britain

The World of Stonehenge

Neil Oliver, archaeologist and presenter of several BBC documentaries, has created a wonderful series that is highly entertaining and informative.  (It doesn’t hurt that he has a cute Scottish accent!) Highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of Great Britain, particularly Celtic history.

A History of Ancient Britain, Series 1, BBC 2 (2011)
aka The World of Stonehenge, Knowledge Network, USA

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Tapping into the latest scientific detective work and experimental archaeology, Neil Oliver uncovers the story of prehistoric Britain in this fascinating four-part series. Investigating famous sites, as well as little known ones (which hold some of the biggest secrets), Neil travels to Brittany to discover Carnac, where farmers and hunter-gathers clashed 7,000 years ago, to Ireland, where he finds the world’s most extensive Stone Age system of fields and walls, and to Stonehenge, the sacred stone circle where the living could commune with the dead.

  • Age of Ice – Neil Oliver travels back to ice age Britain as he begins the epic story of how our land and its people came to be over thousands of years of ancient history. This week sees a struggle for survival in a brutal world of climate change and environmental catastrophe.
  • Age of Ancestors – Neil Oliver continues the story of how today’s Britain and its people were forged over thousands of years of ancient history. It’s 4,000 BC and the first farmers arrive from Europe, with seismic consequences for the local hunter-gatherers.
  • Age of Cosmology – Neil Oliver continues his journey through the world of Ancient Britain as he encounters an age of cosmological priests and some of the greatest monuments of the Stone Age, including Stonehenge itself. This is a time of elite travellers, who were inventing the very idea of Heaven itself.
  • Age of Bronze – Neil Oliver reaches the end of his epic tour of our most distant past with the arrival of metals and the social revolution that ushered in a new age of social mobility, international trade, and village life.

A History of Celtic Britain, Series 2, BBC 2 (2011)
aka The World After Stonehenge, Knowledge Network, USA

Image: A-History-of-Celtic-Britain-Cover.jpg

Neil continues his landmark investigation of how Britain and its peoples came to be. Over the course of four episodes, he tells the story of a developing nation, from a population of self-sufficient farmers in 500 BC through the Iron Age and the Roman conquest. He also addresses one of the greatest mysteries of history: who, what and where were the Celts? They may never have existed as a genetic people, but as a culture the Celts generated extraordinary riches – warriors, druids and the first kings.

  • Age of Iron – Diving for 3,000-year-old treasure and pot-holing through an ancient copper mine he discovers how a golden age of bronze collapsed into social and economic crisis set against a period of sharp climate change… eventually to be replaced by a new era, of iron.
  • Age of Warriors – Neil Oliver explores the age of Celtic Britain – a time of warriors, druids, and kings of unimaginable wealth. Neil encounters a celebrated warrior from 300 BC, owner of the finest Iron Age sword ever discovered. He tries his hand at divination in an effort to discover the power of Celtic priests and searches into his own DNA for clues to Celtic identity.
  • Age of Invasion – Neil Oliver explores the remains of brutal Iron Age battles and Celtic rebellion as he reaches the moment when Celtic Britain was ripped apart by the world’s great empire – the Roman army.
  • Age of Romans – Neil Oliver completes his epic journey through thousands of years of ancient history with the modern marvels of Rome. Digging beneath a London tower block, discovering building work from a massive stadium, and encountering the remains of an African woman who lived in York 1800 years ago – all evidence of the extraordinary multicultural modern world of Rome.

DocuWiki – A History of Ancient Britain Series 1, A History of Celtic Britain
Knowledge Network – The World of Stonehenge, The World After Stonehenge

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Stonehenge is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Located in Wiltshire, England, it consists of a ring of standing stones within a variety of earthworks.  Stonehenge is found within one of the most dense collection of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, which includes the nearby site of Avebury.

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Stonehenge is thought to have been constructed over several stages between 3,000 to 2,000 BCE, however the site has been found to contain much older archeological evidence.  Initial Mesolithic post holes have been found and dated to around 8,000 BCE.

The first stage of construction at Stonehenge began around 3,100 BCE, consisting of banks, ditches and a circle of pits known as the Aubrey holes.  Cremated remains were found with these pits and experts suggest they are associated with some sort of religious ceremony.  Analysis of teeth found near the nearby Durrington Walls suggests that as many as 4,000 people had gathered at the site.


The second stage of construction at Stonehenge occurred around 3,000 BCE and consisted of earthworks and timber postholes.  Additional cremated remains have been dated to this time, suggesting that Stonehenge was one of the earliest cremation cemeteries in the British Isles.

The next stage of construction began around 2,600 BCE, marking the transition from timber to stone. It is during this time that about 80 bluestones were erected to form a double circle.  The origins of the dolerite bluestones is thought to be from southwest Wales, however a glacial origin of the stones has also been postulated.  The northeastern entrance of Stonehenge was also widened and more precisely aligned with the mid-summer sunrise and mid-winter sunset.

From about 2,600 to 2,400 BCE, several sarsen stones were erected to form an outer ring and hanging lintels.  The final configuration was completed between 2,280 to 1,600 BCE, where the stones were rearranged to form the horseshoe and circle shape seen at Stonehenge today.

Major restoration began on the site in 1901, including straightening and moving several large standing stones.  In 1928, Stonehenge was purchased and given to the National Trust in order to preserve the monument and its surrounding land.  Archaeological excavations have also occurred over time, leading to new discoveries and further reconfiguration of the site.

Since Stonehenge was constructed during a time when little written records were kept, not much is known about its original purpose and usage.  Early writers speculated that Stonehenge was built and used by the ancient Druids as part of their ritual practices, however it has since been found that the site is much older.  Many theories have been suggested, such as Stonehenge being a place of healing, ancestor worship, or funerary monument.   However the site is still associated with much myth and legend.  Neopagans flock to the site in celebration, particularly at the solstices and equinoxes.  It is a place of beauty, magic and mystery.

Wiki – Stonehenge
PaganWiccan.About.com – Stonehenge

© The Celtic Journey (2013)

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Ogham (OH-am) is an ancient alphabet used to write Old Irish and other Brythonic/Brittonic languages (such as Pictish, Welsh) from about the 3rd century CE.  The Ogham alphabet is sometimes called the ‘Celtic Tree Alphabet’ as each letter is assigned a tree or plant name.  However, this was probably done after the initial creation of the Ogham script.

After about the 6th century CE, the Roman alphabet was used to write Old Irish, therefore the Ogham alphabet declined in popularity.  However, the 14th century Book of Ballymote (Leabhar Bhaile an Mhóta) contains genealogies, mythologies, and histories of Ireland written in Ogham script.

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The Book of Ballymote also contains older manuscripts which contain Ogham script, such as the 11th century Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland) and the 7th century Auraicept na n-Éces (The Scholars’ Primer).  Another important document that contains detailed descriptions of Ogham is the 14th century In Lebor Ogaim (The Book of Ogams, The Ogam Tract), which is mentioned in Auraicept na n-Éces.

Several of these manuscripts describe how the Ogham alphabet was invented soon after the Tower of Babel (along with the Gaelic language) by the Scythian king Fenius.  However The Ogam Tract states that the alphabet was created by the Irish god of communication and writing, Ogma/Oghma (Ogmios in Gaul).

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Ogham inscriptions have been found throughout Ireland and western Britain.  Most ancient inscriptions are found along the edges of large stone slabs and consist of personal names, such as ‘X son of Y’, probably as territorial markers or memorials.  It is thought that Ogham letters would have also been inscribed on sticks, stakes and trees.  Bilingual inscriptions have been found which aid in translation, such as Ogham and Latin, or Ogham and Old Norse (written in the Runic alphabet).

Originally there were 20 Ogham characters (feda), divided into four groups (aicmí) of five.  Each aicme was named after its first letter:

Aicme Beithe – “the B Group”
Aicme hÚatha – “the H Group”
Aicme Muine – “the M Group”
Aicme Ailme – “the A Group”

A fifth group, forfeda, was added after the 6th century, probably due to changes in the Irish language.

The Ogham alphabet (vertical)

The alphabet is generally written vertically from bottom to top, mostly found inscribed on stone slabs.  However horizontal script is also found, written from left to right, mostly in manuscripts.  The letters are linked together by a solid line.

In his book The White Goddess, Robert Graves discusses the Ogham alphabet in reference to Celtic religious beliefs and ceremonies.  He proposes that the order of Ogham letters form a calendar of tree magic, with each letter corresponding to a Celtic month.

  1. Beith (Birch)        December 24 to January 20
  2. Luis (Rowan)      January 21 to February 17
  3. Nion (Ash)           February 18 to March 17
  4. Fearn (Alder)      March 18 to April 14
  5. Saille (Willow)    April 15 to May 12
  6. Uath (Hawthorn) May 13 to June 9
  7. Duir (Oak)           June 10 to July 7
  8. Tinne (Holly)      July 8 to August 4
  9. Coll (Hazel)         August 5 to September 1
  10. Muin (Vine)        September 2 to September 29
  11. Gort (Ivy)            September 30 to October 27
  12. Ngetal (Reed)     October 28 to November 24
  13. Ruis (Elder)         November 25 to December 22

December 23 is not ruled by any tree, it is the traditional day in the “Year and a Day” in early courts of law. 

Robert Graves followed the older interpretation of ‘Beith-Luis-Nion’ as the first three Ogham letters.  However most modern scholars place the order of Ogham letters as ‘Beith-Luis-Fearn’.

Oghams are also used by Neopagans as divination tools, as mentioned in the Tochmarc Étaíne, from the Irish Mythological Cycle.  Ogham symbols are written on sticks or other pieces of wood and thrown on the ground, studying the symbolism of where they fell.

Witch of Forest Grove

Witch of Forest Grove

Wiki – Ogham
Omniglot – Ogham
Ancient Scripts – Ogham
Celtic Tree Calendar

© The Celtic Journey (2013)

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