English Heritage says Seahenge should not return to its beach site

By David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent (Independent)

20 November 2001

English Heritage is campaigning to prevent the Seahenge prehistoric wooden temple being returned to the Norfolk beach where it was discovered two and half years ago.

The 4,000-year-old structure was identified off Holme next the Sea, dug up and then taken to Peterborough in Cambridgeshire because of concern over sea erosion. Its removal provoked prolonged protests by locals and Druid groups, who said the circle was a religious monument.

English Heritage, which oversaw and financed the excavation of the 50-plus timbers that surrounded an upturned tree stump, said the structure should not be returned because of the danger of it being destroyed by the North Sea.

The conservation body has now planned a public meeting to discuss its proposal and a spokesman said it was exploring the possibilities for displaying Seahenge with its owners, the le Strange Estate, and local organisations.

Research on Seahenge has changed the minds of archae-ologists on life in the Early Bronze Age. The site is yielding extraordinary new evidence of a much more dramatic prehistoric industrial revolution in Early Bronze Age Britain than had been previously thought.

A 3D laser scanning assessment of all 56 timbers in the monument has revealed that all the tools used to cut down and trim the timbers were made of bronze.

Academics had previously been thought that Early Bronze Age tribesmen used a mixture of stone and bronze tools and that bronze axes were a valuable rarity. But the 3D survey of the marks on the timbers has revealed that between 36 and 48 bronze axes – and not one made of stone – were used in the operation.

It is yet another piece of evidence suggesting that prehistoric technology was more sophisticated, and common, than thought.

The Seahenge axe marks are the earliest metal tool marks ever discovered in Britain – and the 3D survey, funded by English Heritage, is likely to enable scientists to work out exactly how much labour was required to construct the temple. It should also allow archaeologists for the first time to estimate the quantity of bronze in use in Britain at that time.

The new information from the Seahenge timbers and elsewhere suggests that the bronze revolution was particular rapid in Britain, which had a population of about 500,000 at the time – probably for two reasons.

Firstly, Britain had excellent resources of tin, which is used to make bronze, in Cornwall and Devon. Secondly, British copper tools, the main metal objects in use between 2500 and 2150BC, were far poorer than many of their continental equivalents

Seahenge has been dated to exactly 2049BC, meaning that it was built less than 100 years after the advent of Britain's first bronze industry. The 3D laser survey is being analysed by Maisie Taylor, a specialist in prehistoric wood-working.