Record Details

NHER Number:33771
Type of record:Monument
Name:'Seahenge' Early Bronze Age timber circle on Holme Beach

Summary

The site of an Early Bronze Age timber circle, possibly a monument to mark the death of an individual, the death of a tree or the culmination of a celebration or festival. The structure had an oval circuit of timber posts which surrounded an upside tree stump. It was fully excavated in 1999 by the NAU and appears on aerial photographs taken in May 1999. Up to twenty five trees were used to build it and the timbers revealed numerous Early Bronze Age toolmarks (probably the largest number recorded in Britain to date). Tree ring dating and environmental evidence has shown that it was constructed in the spring or early summer of 2049 BC in a saltmarsh. Although nothing survives at the site, the conserved timber circle is displayed in Lynn Museum. The site of the circle is located within a sensitive and fragile National Nature Reserve, Site of Special Scientific Interest and Natura 2000 site; Holme Beach should be visited with great care not to disturb nesting or wintering birds.

Images - none

Location

Grid Reference:TF 71124 45263
Map Sheet:TF74NW
Parish:HOLME NEXT THE SEA, WEST NORFOLK, NORFOLK

Full description

August 1998.
Timber circle surrounding tree stump in submerged forest discovered by [1].
Middle Bronze Age palstave within 15m (50 feet) of circle (now recorded under NHER 38041).
Site visited by E. Rose (NLA) with finder [1].
Report (S1), plan (S2) and documents in file.
E. Rose (NLA), 14 August 1998.

Autumn 1998. Evaluation excavation.
Six samples from five timbers submitted for dendrochronological dating. The resultant chronology could not be dated by dendronchronological means and high precision radiocarbon dating was carried out on six samples from the tree stump.
See published articles (S3) and (S4) for further details. The results of this initial work are also summarised in (S16).
D. Robertson (NLA), 12 June 2006.

Radiocarbon dating indicated Bronze Age date. Accurate grid reference (centre on TF71125 45263 9c) plotted by Global Positioning System.
E. Rose (NLA), 23 March 1999.

May to August 1999. Excavation.
The structure was perceived to be under threat from damage and erosion from the sea - as such it was fully excavated. This involved the removal of the timbers, a programme of stratigraphic recording and environmental sampling.
The structure comprised a elliptical circumference of fifty five large oak posts and one smaller upright timber, set around an inverted oak tree. Maximum diameter of 6.78m, with the tree set slightly southwest of the centre.
The central tree had two holes cut through the trunk on opposite sides, with a length of honeysuckle rope passed through the holes and tied in a knot.
A maximum of twenty five trees were used to build the structure. Evidence of woodworking was recovered, including felling, trimming, splitting and flattening. 422 pieces of wood debris were found, including woodchips. Toolmarks recorded from a total of fifty nine possible tools; the maximum number of tools used is probably nearer 51. The toolmarks are probably the largest assemblage of Early Bronze Age toolmarks yet recorded in Britain.
The structure was built at a single point in time. Dendrochronological dating of fifty five samples revealed that the timber circle was constructed in the spring or early summer of 2049 BC, during the Early Bronze Age.
Environmental analysis demonstrated that the structure was built on a saltmarsh. During the Bronze Age freshwater reedswamp and alder carr spread over the saltmarsh and the monument itself.
Two timbers (context 35=37 and 65) may have been the first timbers set in place. These were placed on a southwest to northeast alignment, on the approximate direction of the midsummer rising sun and midwinter setting sun. This may have been deliberate or unintentional.
All but one of the circumference timbers were placed with their bark facing outwards. The timber with the split face facing outwards must have had significance.
The structure has been interpreted in various ways. These include a monument to mark the death of an individual, the death of a tree or the regenerative failure of trees and the commeration of an event, a life or the culmination of a celebration or festival.
See published article (S3) for further information. The results of this work are also summarised in (S17).
The fragmentary remains of the timber circle are now in the King's Lynn Museum (KILLM : 2007.1100). The excavation archive has been deposited with the Norwich Castle Museum (NWHCM : 2017.484).
D. Robertson (NLA), 12 June 2006. Amended by P. Watkins (HES), 27 May 2019.

1999.
Photographs (S5) in file. Press cuttings scrapbook (S6) supplied by [2].
D. Gurney (NLA), 17 July 2000.

26 May 1999. NLA air photography.
Photographs taken of Holme timber circle and environs on first day of main excavation.
S. Massey (NLA), 26 March 2001.

Number now includes only timber circle excavation.
See NHER 38041 for 1999 walkover survey.
See NHER 38042 for stake alignment/possible fish trap (formerly NHER 33771 context 72 with elements contexts 83 and 84).
See NHER 38043 for line of stakes formerly NHER 33771 context 85 (includes contexts 73 and 86).
See NHER 38044 for structure NHER 33771 context 126, hurdle-like fencing context 74 around four oak timbers (context 75 and 76). Also contexts 130-165 inclusive.
See NHER 38045 for findspot of planks (previously NHER 33771 contexts 77 and 78).
See NHER 38046 for possible trackway (NHER 33771 context 79, containing contexts 80-82).
J. Allen (NLA), 17 February 2003.

2000-2001. Casual finds.
Early Bronze Age button (S18), Late Bronze Age tanged chisel (S19), ?Late Bronze Age pottery, prehistoric animal bone.
See list in file.
S. Howard (HES), 4 November 2011.

August 2002. Norfolk NMP.
The site of a Bronze Age timber circle with central inverted tree stump which is located within the intertidal zone on Holme beach and is visible on oblique aerial photographs aerial photographs taken in 1999-2000 (S7-11). The timber circle itself did not appear to be visible on any of the vertical aerial photographs consulted. The only aerial photographs where the structures could be discerned were 1999-2000 oblique aerial photographs taken of the excavations and site. Due to the intertidal location of these features the aerial photographs did not provide sufficient control for NMP mapping. Therefore the mapping was located using survey plans (S12) from the excavation in 1999.
H. Clare (NMP) & S. Massey (NMP), 30 August 2002.

For parallel of ritual inverted tree in a pit of this date see (S13).
E. Rose (NLA), 27 November 2006.

January 2010.
The timbers are to be displayed in King's Lynn Museum.
See (S15) for details.
H. White (NLA), 29 January 2010.

Monument Types

  • TIMBER CIRCLE (Beaker to Middle Bronze Age - 2049 BC to 1501 BC)

Associated Finds

  • WORKED OBJECT (Undated)

Protected Status - none

Sources and further reading

---Monograph: Canti, M. G. 2001. Aspects of Sediment Diagenesis and Taphonomy at Holme-next-the-Sea, Norfolk. English Heritage Centre for Archaeology Report. 79/2001.
---Photograph: JGK 11-16.
---Photograph: JJY 10-11.
---Aerial Photograph: Edwards, D.A. (NLA). 1999. TF7145/A, ABQ; TF7144/K- Q.
---Correspondence: 1998. Holme next the Sea: timber structure.
---Unpublished Document: Murphy, P.. 1999. The palaeoenvironmental context of the Holme-next-the-Sea timber structure: notes for the AMAC visit, 11th June 1999.
---Unpublished Document: Gurney, D.. 1999. Holme next the Sea Timber Circle Forum. 16 September 1999 Meeting Notes.
---Correspondence: 1999. Correspondence regarding 'Seahenge'.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1999-2001. [General articles on 'Seahenge'].
---Newspaper Article: [Unknown]. 2001. My week, Maisie Taylor. January.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1999. [Articles on the potential for preserving 'Seahenge'].
---Newspaper Article: Lynn News. 1999. Prehistoric date for Holme Henge?. 23 February.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1999. [Articles on the excavation of 'Seahenge'].
---Newspaper Article: The Daily Telegraph. 1999. Fear of New Age invasion at Bronze Age tree circle. 24 May.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1999. [Articles on the court injunction to prevent English Heritage from removing 'Seahenge'].
---Newspaper Article: Lynn News. 1999. 'Magic of the circle has been broken'. 20 July.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1999-2001. [Articles on the scientific work carried out on 'Seahenge' carried out at Flag Fen].
---Newspaper Article: Lynn News. 1999. Bid to unlock 4000-yr-old mystery. 19 November.
---Newspaper Article: Lynn News. 1999. Holme Henge a 4000,yr-old religious temple, say experts. 3 December.
---Newspaper Article: 2003. Eastern Daily Press. 12 February.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1999-2001. [Articles on the proposals for how to preserve 'Seahenge' whether through reburial or in a display].
---Newspaper Article: Lynn News. 1999. Homage to oak henge. 22 January.
---Newspaper Article: Lynn News. 1999. Holme gives up its watery secret. 12 January.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1999. [Articles and letters to the editor on the reason for 'Seahenge' being built].
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 1999-2000. [Articles and letters to the editor on public opinion on whether 'Seahenge' should be moved].
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2002. [Articles on the preparing of Lynn Museum for displaying 'Seahenge'].
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2000. [Articles on the ownership of 'Seahenge'].
---Publication: Champion, M.. 2000. Seahenge, A Contemporary Chronicle.
---Monograph: Pryor, F.. 2002. Seahenge: A Quest for Life and Death in Bronze Age Britain..
---Publication: Watson, C.. 2005. Seahenge: An Archaeological Conundrum.
---Article in Serial: Brennand, M.. 2004. This is why we dug Seahenge.. British Archaeology. No 78.
---Article in Serial: Denison, S.. 1998. News.. British Archaeology. December.
---Monograph: Groves, C. 2002. Dendrochronological Analysis of a Timber Circle at Holme-next-the-Sea, Norfolk. English Heritage Centre for Archaeology Report. 6/2002.
---Unpublished Document: Groves, C.. 1999. Dendrochronological Interim Statement - Holme-next-the-Sea.
---Unpublished Document: Green, F.. 2006. Holme Next sea: A lower peat and The recording of the fallen trees in the peat.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2004. Relic linked to seahenge. 13 August.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2010. Unique to Norfolk. 16 March.
---Photograph: 1998. KKB-KKP.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2010. Object lessons in Norfolk's rich heritage. 29 May.
---Moving Image: Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service. 2007. Seahenge: A Journey Through Time.. WMA.
---Article in Serial: Brennand, M. 1999. The Timber Circle at Holme-next-the-Sea. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol XLIII Pt II pp 339-340.
---Secondary File: Secondary File.
---Slide: Various. Slide.
---Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2014. Second timber circle dates to the same time as the ancients built Seahenge. 2 July.
<S1>Unpublished Document: Rose, E.. 1998. Timber Structure at Holme next the Sea.
<S2>Illustration: Rose, E.. 1998. Holme next Sea: Diagrammatic Sketch.
<S3>Article in Serial: Brennand, M. and Taylor, M. 2003. The Survey and Excavation of a Bronze Age Timber Circle at Holme-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, 1998-9. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. Vol 69 pp 1-84.
<S4>Article in Serial: Bayliss, A., Groves, C., McCormac, G., Baillie, M., Brown, D. & Brennand, M. 1999. Precise dating of the Norfolk timber circle.. Nature. Vol 402, p 479.
<S5>Photograph: 1999. Seahenge.
<S6>Unpublished Document: 1999. Holme-next-the-Sea Scrapbook.
<S7>Aerial Photograph: 2000. NMR TF7145/6 (NMR 21053/05) 13-NOV-2000.
<S8>Aerial Photograph: 2000. NMR TF7145/7 (NMR 21053/06) 13-NOV-2000.
<S9>Aerial Photograph: 1999. SMR TF7145/AW- AX (NLA/395/JZW12-13) 26-MAY-1999.
<S10>Aerial Photograph: 1999. SMR TF7145/A (NLA/395/JPJ1) 26-MAY-1999.
<S11>Aerial Photograph: 1999. SMR TF7145/D-E (NLA/395/JPJ4-5) 26-MAY-1999.
<S12>Unpublished Document: Brennand, M.. 1999. Survey plots from Holme timber circle excavation.
<S13>Monograph: Ellis, C.. 2004. Prehistoric Ritual Complex at Eynesbury.. East Anglian Archaeology. Occasional Paper 17.
<S15>Newspaper Article: Eastern Daily Press. 2010. [Articles on the display of 'Seahenge' at Lynn Museum].
<S16>Article in Serial: Gurney, D. and Penn, K. (eds). 1999. Excavations and Surveys in Norfolk 1998. Norfolk Archaeology. Vol XLIII Pt II pp 369-387. p 375.
<S17>Article in Serial: Gurney, D. and Penn, K. (eds). 2000. Excavations and Surveys in Norfolk 1999. Norfolk Archaeology. XLIII Pt III pp 521-543. p 528.
<S18>Illustration: Holness, A.. 2001. Drawing of a Bronze Age button.. Film. 2:1.
<S19>Illustration: Holness, A.. 2001. Drawing of a Bronze Age chisel.. Film. 2:1.

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