William Stukeley at Winterbourne Bassett

The "Celtic Temple" at Winterbourne Bassett. From William Stukeley's Itinerarium Curiousum of 1724. Note Silbury in the background

A mile or so along the lane from the White Horse Inn (below) at Winterbourne Bassett are the remains of a stone circle, described by William Stukeley in Abury, a Temple of the British Druids, with Some Others Described of 1724 thus, "At Winterburn-basset, a little north of Abury, in a field north-west of the church, upon elevated ground, is a double circle of stones concentric, 60 cubits diameter. Many of the stones have late been carried away. West of it is a single, broad, flat, and high stone, standing by itself. And about as far northward from the circle, in a ploughed field, is a barrow set round with, or rather compos'd of large stones. I take this double circle to have been a family chapel, as we may call it, to an archdruid dwelling near thereabouts, whilst Abury was his cathedral."

All that is now visible above ground are three fallen stones in a field. The standing stone on the verge of the T-junction opposite the field was erected in the last decade of the 20th century and was originally pink in colour, indicating that it had probably never formed part of a stone circle.

The Winterbourne Bassett Stone Circle today; only three stones from the circle now remain. Image credit Chris Brooks

Stonehenge, Bluehenge and a heritage cover-up?

Though somewhat outside the remit of Avebury Matters, the recent announcement in the press of a 'Bluehenge' close to Stonehenge is exciting news indeed. One wonders, however, why knowledge of this discovery was not made public before now. Not all remains hidden however. Mike Parker-Pearson (director of the Stonehenge Riverside Project ) is due to give a talk at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum on the 10 October* and it seems certain that Bluehenge will not only be given more of a hearing on Saturday than hitherto planned but will now also be discussed in some detail. Sadly, the cover-up label is going to stick to this one for a long time to come - though we can't help thinking those playing their cards so close to their chests in this instance have only themselves to blame for that label.
But putting that to one side, if there's no danger to the Bluehenge site itself surely it should have been mentioned when it was first found. Any talk of first having to verifying 'carbon dating' before informing the public of the find really is nonsense; of course such data needs to be examined before anything scholarly is published but preliminary findings, especially findings of such a high concentration of bluestone chips so close to Stonehenge, is a pretty clear indication of something very important within the area. Something surely the public has an immediate right to know about and not something that should be kept secret until individuals, corporations and organizations think they should be told.
So what's the real reason for the delay in announcing this potentially very important discovery at Bluehenge? Couldn't be could it that, because of sponsorship deals, our American friends will get to see it on their TV screens before we do? We smell a rat with a big $ sign round its neck and a couple of book deals under its paw. It's all very well saying that the only way to fund such excavations is to secure sponsorship deals but, although that might be true in purely financial terms it also smacks of a serious lack of moral fibre - ie the selling of heritage discoveries to the highest bidder. We're accustomed to seeing such shenanigans in politics and international trade - re: Britain's kowtowing to the Chinese in order to secure our markets there while China's ethnic minorities are flushed down the pan; or 'our' sucking up to Saudi Arabia re: BAA Systems in order for 'us' to secure lucrative arms deals with said same 'county') but it's sad to see it now happening in the world of archaeology. What happened to ethics and things done in the public interest? In this case our heritage, and keeping us informed as and when it happens
As with a lot of things with the heritage label, protecting it and sharing new finds with the public as and when they occur doesn't seem to matter any more. Sponsorship, TV deals, the writing of books, papers and the advancement of personal reputations seem to be far more important.

* Mike Parker-Pearson will be talking at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum on Saturday, 10 October 2009. More information here - http://www.wiltshireheritage.org.uk/events/index.php?Action=2&thID=452&prev=1 His forthcoming book, If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge, published by the National Geographic Society, will be available from April 2010.

Wiltshire Heritage Museum. Image credit Willow

Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes has started to catalogue and digitise all the books in its Library -
http://www.wiltshireheritage.org.uk/library/ onto the Google library - 5000 so far in five months. The fully digitised versions (Full view) are still limited but there are some real gems in the list that presumably will eventually get the treatment. Meanwhile, there are the Limited previews which are pretty good, and Phil Harding's enthusiasm for the library is infectious - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qqU8owM4BQ