Author Archives: kmfranks2013

Ötzi’s Tummy Bug

Researchers probe Ötzi’s mummified gut tissue for clues about the gut bugs he carried.

(Image above is from Here)

Otzi the iceman was an individual murdered some 5,300 years ago. In his stomach, was an ancient strain of Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which is most similar to modern Asian strains.

By sequencing the genome of this ancient pathogen, which can cause ulcers in people today, researchers have made a surprising discovery about Ötzi’s own history: His ancestors inherited bacteria from Asia rather than Africa, suggesting that the predecessors of early European farmers had intimate contact with Asians before they migrated to Europe.

(Gibbons. 2016. Accessed Online 10/01/2016.

So what does this mean? Well… The strain found inside the stomach of Otzi is unexpected. Otzis DNA closely resembles that of early European farmers which originated from the Middle East. However, the bacterial strain in his stomach is more related to Asia and India today – this is suggestive of a ‘new’ scenario.

The ancestors of early European farmers such as Ötzi must have carried H. pylori with DNA from Asian strains perhaps in the Middle East before they migrated to Europe. Then, new immigrants carrying African microbes arrived in Europe much later, after Ötzi lived. The two types of microbes mixed in these migrants, creating today’s European strain much more recently than expected.

(Gibbons. 2016. Accessed Online 10/01/2016.

Therefore what was previously thought to have been an ancient genetic trait and microbial strain has turned out to be a more ‘recent’ evolution, and one which may have happened in a relatively short period of time.

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Posted by on January 10, 2016 in Uncategorized


Durrington Walls ‘Superhenge’ Stones

The henge monumnets of Durrington Walls have been in the news lately, with the announcment of a ‘C shaped’ megalith line of standing stones approximatley 15ft high being discovered under the ‘straight’ side of the monument.

An artists impression showing a row of stones

(Image above is originaly from the Ludwig Bolzmann Institute, but has been reproduced by the Telegraph Here).

What does this all mean?

Dating to 4,500 years ago, the discovery of these stones (approximately 90) are within the same phase of Neolithic megalithic monumnetal constructions as the standing stones at nearby Stonehenge, as well as being the same date as my previously discessed ‘houses’ at Durrington Walls (those which have been reconstructed at the Stonehenge Visitors Centre that I volunteer in). The prescence of large sarsen stones being used as a ‘marker’ or ‘ritual’ processional route is reletively common within the Neolithic landscape (examples of similar routes are found at Stonehenge, Avebury, and Blue Stonehenge are but a few). But these ‘routes’ may all be inter-connected towards the marking of a ritualised environment, an environ which was highly significant to the Neolithic peoples and probably to the hunter gather communities before them.

“These latest results have produced tantalising evidence of what lies beneath the ancient earthworks at Durrington Walls. The presence of what appear to be stones, surrounding the site of one of the largest Neolithic settlements in Europe adds a whole new chapter to the Stonehenge story.” Quote is by Nick Snashall, Archaeologist at Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Sites, taken from the BBC Website Here and the Guardian Website Here).

(Above Video is from Ludwig Botzmann Institute of Virtual Archaeology on Youtube).



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Posted by on September 8, 2015 in Uncategorized


Inside the Neolithic ‘houses’ at Stonehenge.

The Houses

As a volunteer inside these ‘houses’, they are a wonderful and inspiring exhibit within the Stonehenge landscape. Not just for me as a volunteer, but for the public of all ages. The ‘houses’ do not just say “Neolithic people lived like this”, they however, emphasise and explore the imagination of its visitors. The walls of the building are made with wattle and daub  (crushed chalk, water, and straw). English heritage decided not to use animal dung within its walls (as expected through archaeological interpretation) as dung created a more yellowish hue, compared to the cleaner white finish provided in the current reconstructions. The daub is made into a putty like texture and is forced onto and into branch posts of hazel.

The roofs of the ‘houses’ are thatched grasses, archaeological pollen analysis showed which cereal pollens were being grown at the time of construction of the original structures. So we know what materials were used in the basic construction of these ‘houses’, however, we do not know how they were thatched. Therefore, each of the ‘houses’ has been constructed differently, using the same materials – to present a better representation of how these structures were original made.

The most common/ frequently asked question whilst volunteering at this exhibit – Why is there no hole in the roof for the smoke from the fire? The answer is simple, with a hole, the flames and ember rise up to high and catch the roof on fire. Bye bye ‘houses’. Thankfully, without a hole, the flames can be contained and fires can be lit in the ‘houses’ – indeed volunteers at the ‘houses’ have lit fires very frequently (usually daily) since the creation of the exhibit in May 2014.

Artefacts Inside the Houses

All of the items inside the ‘houses’ are replicas. However, all of these reconstructions have been made with mostly traditional techniques when possible (when they are known). Therefore, what they convey is a more realistic interior for the buildings – if something was not available in the Neolithic, then it is not provided inside the houses (other than health and safety equipment, and of course, us volunteers).

So, where to start… the most popular items for people to want to know about/ see/ handle would be the Axes/ Ades. In the Houses at Stonehenge there are (normally) two types. One is made from flint, and the other is from Bronze. At the dated range estimated for the structures excavated at Durrington Walls, the later Neolithic people would have likely been in contact with Bronze tools from trade/ contacts made with Europe (dominantly Scandinavia) – yet at this time in Britain, they were unable to construct these tools for themselves. Both axes were supposedly used to cut down trees, however, it is unlikely that the Bronze axe would have been used, generally in archaeological contexts these axes are much smaller, have highly decorative patterns on them and show little evidence of being used. In comparison with the more commonly found flint axes, which are more suited to cutting timbers. Experiments were tried – into which over 11,000 blows later, the tree was felled. If the weights of both axes are compared, the bronze is much lighter, and much better balanced – which is suggestive of why bronze was so much more widely preferred in technology to its predecessor.

Arrows are also shown in the houses, they are various lengths and have flint arrowheads on the ends. The excavations at Durrington Walls discovered hundred of arrowheads. The replica arrows have been hafted using a ‘pitch’, a sort of super glue of the Neolithic made from crushed charcoal, bees wax and pine resin which has been heated and applied as I paste. The shape of the flint arrowheads are designed for blood letting – as they go into the animal/ kill, they cut through flesh and move around the wound. The kill will die of blood loss shortly after impact, in the scenario that the shot didn’t kill instantly). The flint arrowheads and the feathers are connected with this pitch. The feathers used are goose feathers, and they are connected with the use of deer sinew (from the back tendon deer’s legs) – this is a resource which make a very strong string. Indeed – several resources from animals were required to make an arrow. The bows for these arrows are also located in the houses. there are two types of wood used for these bows, one bow is made from Yew (like Ötzi the Iceman’s bow, as well as being much like the bows constructed through to Medieval times) and the other is made from Ash.

Various hafted flint blades are also presented in the ‘houses’. Archaeologically these flints are found in a vast array of shapes and sizes, but due to the nature of flint being sharp, it could cut you hand when handling them. Therefore, the reconstructions shown have been hafted on wooden handles – just as they would have been intended when originally made in the Neolithic. Some of these flints are scrapers, backed knives, fabricators, others are sickles or piercers. Once again, the flints have been fixed to the wooden handles using a pitch, and in some cases a string has been used also.

A range of containers are also on display, two are made from birch bark, which are based on the Archaeological known examples from Ötzi the iceman, and from those excavated at Lower Horton, Oxfordshire. Others have been made using various techniques and materials from cereal grasses, river reeds, stinging nettles, barks (mainly lime bast, the inner bark of a lime tree). The baskets were made from hedgerow materials (e.g. willow, bramble) and the colours of them are all from naturally different colours of the materials. The fish trap/ basket is based on the archaeological examples from Must Farm, Cambridgeshire and the Somerset Levels.

Bones and horns shown are all genuine bones and horns (which a few people are surprised with), and have been modified to be musical instruments such as the rams horn trumpet, cow bone whistle, cow horn trumpet. Several reeds have also been cut into musical instruments. Bone fishing hooks are also shown, although none were found at the Durrington Walls excavations.

Cordage is another material which is not commonly associated with the technologies available to Neolithic people. In the ‘houses’ there is a variety of examples, showing what strings, cordage and ropes could have been constructed with – such as stinging nettles, willow, flax, hemp and deer sinew. There are even examples of clothing being made from these materials on display, several shirts made from stinging nettles and flax, and some shoes made from a composite of materials based on Ötzi the Iceman’s clothing.

(To be Continued…)

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Posted by on August 12, 2015 in Uncategorized


Summer Solstice 2015

The Summer Solstice for 2015 has come and past. But what is the Summer Solstice?

In a basic definition, the Summer Solstice is when the ’tilt’ of the Earth on its axis is at the closest point to our Sun.


(Image above is from the Huffington Post Website Here Accessed Online 01/09/2015).

 At Stonehenge, this phenomena ‘fits’ within the constructed Megalithic structure of sarsens which are called Stonehenge. Every year, thousands of people are provided access to the stones of the Henge to celebrate this tradition. The ‘fitting’ of the Summer Solstice is also the same for the Winter Solstice, which however shows more archaeological evidence as being celebrated by the builders of Stonehenge. (See my post on the Winter Solstice for more info).

Revellers typically gather at Stonehenge, the ancient stone circle in Wiltshire, to see the sun rise. The Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone, set outside the main circle, align with the rising sun.

(Quote above from BBC. 2011. Accessed Online 01/09/2015).

Actually the winter solstice seems to have been “far more important” in Neolithic times, a kind of “Neolithic Christmas”.

(Quote above from Mike Parkier Pearson. 2012. Accessed Online 01/09/2015)


This can be a dramatic place to celebrate the Solstice

(Image above is from the National Trust Website Here. Accessed Online 01/09/2015).

Although Avebury stone circles have no known ‘direct’ link with the Summer Solstice, hundreds of people still camp out and enjoy watching the Solstice with its picturesque stones. The prominent link is through the ‘connections’ with the ancestors – the Neolithic peoples whom constructed megalithic architectures and monuments such as at Avebury and Stonehenge.


Pearson, Mike Parker. (2012). ‘Celebrating the Summer Solstice’ Interview on BBC Radio 4.


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Posted by on June 17, 2015 in Uncategorized


Ötzi ‘The Iceman’

A reoccurring topic at the Neolithic ‘Houses’ is Ötzi ‘the Iceman’. So it is time to write a bit about him. I have been privileged enough to travel and visit Ötzi at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Northern Italy.

(Official Website Here).

(Image above is from South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology Website)

Ötzi was a late Neolithic/ Early Bronze Age individual who was frozen in the ice quite by chance, to which an exceptional preservation occurred – proving us a tantalising glimpse to what life was like at the time in which he lived and died. Discovered in 1991 by a German couple on a hike in the Ötztal Alpes, South Tyrol, Italy – Ötzi was thought to have been a ‘mountaineering accident’, but turned out to be an exceptional world famous discovery. He was relatively short in height, being around 160cm/ 5.4 feet (Milisauskas. 2002. Pp. 244- 245), and was approximately 45 years old when he died (Price and Burton. 2011. P. 248).

Not only was Ötzis body preserved, but also were his clothing, weapons and tools; as well as the crime scene which resulted in his death… Ötzi was murdered. the Archaeological evidence recovered from his body merged with the exceptional preservation has enabled modern forensic scientists to theorise what exactly happened to this individual in his final hours.

“In July 2001, almost exactly ten years after the mummy came to light, our consultants, Dr. Egarter Vigl and Dr. Gostner, made an exciting discovery. Analyzing new X-rays, they noticed a foreign body lodged in the left shoulder. Subsequent detailed investigations no longer left any doubt: it was a flint arrowhead. In all probability Ötzi died as a result of this wound. Penetrating the body, the arrowhead created a 2-cm-wide hole in the left shoulder blade and ended up just a few centimetres from the lung. Vital organs were not hit, but the arrow severed a major blood vessel and damaged the neurovascular fascicles of the left arm, which must have caused heavy bleeding and possibly paralysis of the arm. The Iceman probably bled to death within a matter of minutes. In addition, a deep unhealed wound to the hand confirm that the Iceman was involved in hand-to-hand combat hours or days before his death. A recently discovered craniocerebral trauma with major bleeding in the back of the brain along with a skull fracture, indicate a fall or attack shortly before his death.” (South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology Website).

What was preserved? One of the more unusual features of Ötzi are his tattoos. His body contains the evidence of more than 50 tattoos of various designs, including crosses, lines – all of which are located at common ‘wear and tear’ points of the human body (most notably wrists, ankles, knees and back). it has therefore been theorised that these tattoos were an early form of acupuncture (Lanser. 2015. P. 50). The image below shows the most famous of Ötzis tattoos.

(Images above are from an article by Archaeology Magazine, available Here).

(Images above are a small selection of Ötzis surviving artefacts from the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology Website).

Due to Ötzis exception preservation, a wide array of artefacts were recovered from his discovery. Above are a few examples pictured which will be discussed further. The bow was a rare find, it was originally placed against a large boulder before it was covered by ice over time. Part of the bow was sticking out of the ice, and snapped off. When recovered – it was unclear whether the ‘sticks’ of wood were of any importance. Luckily however, it was pieced together to reveal an unfinished longbow of around 182 CM long (Fadala. 2011. P. 35). The quiver of arrows were another important discovery. Flint arrowheads are relatively common on archaeological sites of this period – however the organic nature of the arrow shafts, and bindings are extremely rare.The bow, quiver and arrows are highly significant as they allow us to see the size, materials and technologies which were used at the Late Neolithic/ Early Bronze Age period.

Also surviving among the belongings of Ötzi, were two containers made from the bark of a birch tree which had been stitched using other fibres (Yarish et al. 2009. P. 01). Being made from an organic material, these containers would rarely survive in an archaeological context. The use of Ötzis birch containers can also be assumed from what evidence survived with them – one of them is assumed would have carried the glowing embers from the previous nights fire, which could have been kept smouldering through being held within maple leaves (which were found within one of the containers).

“On his journey over the Alps the Iceman carried a birch-bark container with him. He used it to store hot embers for starting a fire. He wrapped the embers in freshly picked maple leaves, which served as insulation material. The leaves have retained their chlorophyll down to the present day” (South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology Website).

Many of Ötzis personal items were constructed from animal leathers and grasses, the most notable of these are his shoes (as pictured above). These shoes were quite a complicated design, and were constructed from several different components. The inner ‘shoe’ was made from a netting of grass, which was used primarily to hold other grasses and hay in place for insulation. The outer ‘shoe’ was made from deerskin. Both of these ‘shoe sections’ were connected to an oval sole which was made from bear skin (Milisauskas. 2002. Pp. 244- 245; South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology Website). When combined, these shoes would have been well insulated and would have been tough enough to support and protect Ötzis feet in the cold snowy conditions of the Alps.

The copper axe hafted on a yew handle was another interesting artefact recovered from Ötzis. Chemical analysis of the copper in the axe shows that there must have been a sophisticated network of trade throughout Europe more than 6,000 years ago (Price and Burton. 2011. P. 251). The very presence of a copper axe in this so called ‘Copper Age’ in Europe (AKA Late Neolthic/ Early Bronze Age in literature), is suggestive that the mining of copper in prehistory was much more extensive than we find archaeologically/ or currently understand (Fowler et al. 2015. Pp. 701- 702). The axe may have been purely for decoration/ as a status symbol; however, this is unlike the rest of the tools and ‘kit’ that Ötzi was carrying – all of which was functional in the harsh conditions he was traveling in. The more likely interpretation is that the axe was a vital tool to fell trees and would have been crucial for survival in the conditions Ötzi was facing.

In conclusion, the very chance find and preservation conditions of Ötzi have allowed not only archaeologists, but also the public alike to get a glimpse of what life was like to our prehistoric ancestors several thousand years ago. We can visually empathise with an individual who has tattoos to help with the wear and tear of his body. We can see the benefits and reasoning behind the clothing he wore and the weapons/ tools he carried. All of these resources help us better understand the time in which Ötzi was part of and we can attempt to understand the way of life in which this individual lived and died.

Bibliography. (2003). ‘Ötzi, the Iceman’ in Archaeology. Accessed Online 17/06/2015.

Fadala, Sam. (2011). Traditional Archery. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg.

Fowler, Chris, Jan Harding and Daniela Hofmann (2015). The Oxford Handbook of Neolithic Europe. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

Lanser, Amanda. (2015). Otzi the Iceman. Abdo Publishing. USA.

Milisauskas, Sarunas. (2002). European Prehistory: A Survey. Springer Science. New York.

Price, T. Douglas, and James H. Burton. (2011). An Introduction to Archaeological Chemistry. Springer. London.

South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology Website. Accessed Online 21/05/2015.

Yarish, Vladimir, Flo Hoppe and Jim Widess. (2009). Plaited Basketry with Birch Bark. Sterling Publishing Co. Inc. New York.

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Posted by on May 21, 2015 in Uncategorized


Neolithic Houses Volunteering

It has now been half a year since I originally intended to volunteer at the new  Stonehenge Visitor Centre, But now I am returning 🙂

I will be a volunteer inside the Neolithic Houses, showing artefacts and interpreting information to anyone that wants to listen.

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Posted by on February 12, 2015 in Uncategorized


Encampment Near Stonehenge – Vespasian’s Camp

Why is it called Vespians Camp? The site has no connections with being Roman, but the name was given by Antiquarian William Camden. The camp itself is a fortified Iron Age hillfort, which was thought to have been archaeologically destroyed through previous landscaping works in the 18th Century by the Marquess of Queensberry, who had major works completes on the areas surrounding the site (the Antrobus Estate) and areas around Amesbury Abbey. The developed areas became ornamental gardens, with what was popular at the time – large tree plantations. However, the area in question has turned out to be an archaeological ‘blind spot’ (Current Archaeology), and has escaped the majorities of works and remained in an outstanding preservation condition.

Image shown is from a drawing by Sir Richard Colt Hoare in the 19th Century. (Image from Online Here).

This site has since been called ‘The Cradle of Stonehenge’ (Current Archaeology) due to the archaeological evidence suggesting the camp was in for 9,000 years, some three millennia before the creation of Stonehenge. Large quantities of Mesolithic materials have been excavated from the site since 2010 by Buckingham University (Website). Finds include worked flints (and many burnt flints), bones (over 60% of which were auroch). This proves that the environment of Stonehenge was highly ritualistic and important to not only the Neolithic people, but also the Mesolithic communities who predate them. The evidence for Mesolithic activity within the Stonehenge landscape is scarce (only the post pits located under the old carpark were the known Mesolithic example).

Only future excavations and archaeological research will provide a greater understanding of this site, which will without a doubt expand our appreciation of not only the site itself, but the wider context of the surrounding landscape.



Buckingham University Research: Accessed Online 31/12/2014.

Current Archaeology: Accessed Online 31/12/2014.

Stonehenge World Heritage Site: Accessed Online 01/01/2015.

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Posted by on January 1, 2015 in Uncategorized


Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice has recently passed, but what was it? The Solstice in winter is the shortest day of the year, with the solstice in summer being the longest day in the year. Many places are noted to have been constructed and designed with certain astronomical alignments, such as the solstices – however the most well known example is Stonehenge.

Image above of Stonehenge is from Here.

Information about the Solstice at Stonehenge is available on their Website. English Heritage also explains on this site why the solstice is on a particular date:

Why 22 December?

Many people – not least diary manufacturers – believe that the Winter Solstice always falls on 21 December. But the celebration of the winter solstice at Stonehenge is not fixed to a specific calendar date – this is because of a mismatch between the calendar year and solar year.

The solstice is traditionally celebrated at the sunrise closest to the time when the sun is stationary before beginning its transit to the north or south. This year this occurs late on 21 December, hence the winter solstice celebrations take place at sunrise on 22 December.

(Quote is from Here)



English Heritage Page on the Solstice at Stonehenge:

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Posted by on December 22, 2014 in Uncategorized


The Contemporary Long-barrow

The new Long-barrow at All Cannings in Wiltshire has been finished and now is ready for use. (All Cannings Website). But what is a ‘long barrow’?

An Artists drawing of the All Cannings long barrow (from their website:

Long barrows are monuments which are most often associated with the Neolithic period. They are regarded as being large funeral structures build by communities from the onset of agriculture and the ‘Neolithic revolution’. As people began to live predominantly agricultural lifestyles and started to settle down, a rise in large monumental architecture dominates the archaeological record. As people had more free time (from an excess of foods which could be stored, such as cereals) – they could work together on communal projects such as long barrows. The transitions of long barrows in the Neolithic are arguably the result from linking the realms of the living with that of the dead through ‘houses’. The ‘houses’ of the living have been discussed in great detail on my blog, as they were the discussion for my BA Archaeology Dissertation. This post however, focuses on the ‘houses’ of the dead – Long barrows.

One of the most famous examples of a long barrow is that of West Kennet Long Barrow in Avebury, Wiltshire. (Image shown is from the English Heritage Website).


This barrow has been dated to have been constructed in around 3650 BC and was first excavated in 1859, and more thoroughly excavated by Stuart Piggott between 1955-1956 and resulted in the large reconstruction visible today. The archaeological evidence from this sit included the remains of 46 individuals, both male and female of mixed ages, within different chambers inside. For a more in- depth look at West Kennett long barrow, especially within the wider context of Avebury, I would recommend reading Thomas (2005. Pp. 214- 220). For more information on long barrows in general see Darvill (2013).

The phenomenon of long barrows, their locations, conditions, and contemporary research can be found by Lewis (2008. Pp. 187- 206). It is generally acknowledged that the purpose of long barrows and Neolithic monumental architecture in general, is indicative of marking ones place within their environment. These people were marking their lands, territory, ancestral region, property with a marker. In the case of long barrows, a communal burial place. These structures were designed to stand out, be seen from miles around and required a mass amount of sophistication, organisation, materials, as well as a huge quantity of people – they would have been highly ritualized and important structures within not only the societies which constructed them; but also the generations of peoples which followed.


Darvill, Timothy. (2013). Long Barrows and Broken Bones. English Heritage. Accessed Online 31/12/2014.

Lewis, Jodie. (2008). The Long Barrows and Long Mounds of West Mendip. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society. 24 (3). Pp. 187- 206.

Thomas, Julian. (2005). Understanding the Neolithic. Routledge. London.


English Heritage. (2014). History and Research: West Kennett Long Barrow. Accessed Online 31/12/2014.

All Cannings Long Barrow website.

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Posted by on September 26, 2014 in Uncategorized


Beneath Stonehenge

Birmingham University (Website Here) has discovered an array of various prehistoric constructions around the Stonehenge environment. Within these constructions include 17 previously unknown wooden or stone structures/ monuments.

(Image above is originally from the Birmingham University Website Here, Accessed Online 05/07/2015).

(Image above is originally from the Birmingham University Website Here, Accessed Online 05/07/2015)


Birmingham University Website. (2015) Accessed Online 05/07/2015.

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Posted by on September 6, 2014 in Uncategorized