• Isadora Martin-Dye

Stone Age Places and Solving Very Cold Cases

Welcome back to the History Through a House: Blogosphere presented by me, Isadora Martin-Dye! This week Ben and Adam learned about the Stone Age, masonry, genetically engineered Nazi cattle and how to stay more woke while talking about calendar eras.

We’ll start with the Devonshire Stone Age. This period of time was defined by the use of knapped flint as cutting tools. Longlands is situated on a hill overlooking two valleys. Hennock also shows evidence of early pre-human settlers. Earthworks known as causewayed enclosures suggest that early English settlers were establishing areas to which they could return. These groups of people were moving toward farming but still focused heavily on herding. The Mesolithic period saw people beginning to establish communities. Barrows and cairns from this period indicate personal burials, but a startling lack of bodies suggests that bodies were a long way from being buried.

On Three Barrow Tor there is what has been described as a mini Stonhenge; constructed of 15x10 granite supports and a capstone. It’s possible that this is an early example of land division as well as a burial site. As with most ancient places there is a story that accompanies its existence. It is said that in 1886 the three stones once fell over and were replaced by spinsters before breakfast. We are, as of now, unsure of the significance of the spinsters or why they were tasked to perform the reconstruction without any breakfast so if anyone could enlighten us please do!

Another method of burial was cists. Cists were constructed of three stone walls with another large stone lowered over top of them. Bodies were often folded into a fetal position, but sometimes ashes in urns were found. Unforutanley, in 1324 Edward 11 ordered that any cists that were found should be opened and their contents examined. This is the first example of what could be described as government sanctioned desecration.

Ancient ghost stories concerning cists are fairly commonplace. One tells of a farmer who continually has a dream about a large pot of gold buried in the bottom of the cist in his garden. After days of manic digging out the bottom of the cist he uncovers a stone heart. He is disappointed at his discovery and he takes the stone into his home. His family begins to notice a change in his behavior, the once congenial farmer becomes cold and harsh. Not understanding the change in his character his family chalks it up to his aging. His son, while cleaning his father’s house, finds the heart and returns it to the cist. Soon after the heart is returned the farmer begins to return to his kind self. This is a common anecdote concerning the disruption of ancient burial sites.

Looking forward now we can look at a way that science is being used to bring history into the 21st century. Aurochs were an ancient breed of cattle that went extinct in the 1600s. During the 1930s Hermann Goering ordered two geneticists to back breed auroch ancestors. The resulting cattle were a combination of Spanish fighting bulls, Highland cattle and primitive breeds from Corsica and Hungary. A Devonshire farmer named Derek Gow attempted to create a prehistoric petting zoo with the “Heck” cattle but had to put down several of his herd due to their violent temperament.

This week at Longlands our resident handyman Jason Coombes helped repoint a bit of stone wall that was threatening to fall in. Jason does everything from hedge laying to ditch digging. However, this project introduced us to the trade of masonry and enlightened us to the methods that would have been used when the house was first constructed. Masonry is one of the oldest human professions. Examples of masonry include the pyramids, Parthenon and the Taj Mahal. Ancient builders would have used quicklime as a joining compound between their building blocks. Lime allows any moisture from the atmosphere to breathe out from the pointing, too much moisture can damage the building. Masonry utilizes common tools like chisels and trowels, but for bonus pub quiz points their specialist tool is called a punching hammer that has a thing, tapered head.

At the Longlands compound we try to remain historically accurate while following culturally forward social changes. In the 20th Century the outdated calendar eras BC and AD have been replaced with the more culturally neutral BCE and CE respectively. Although the calendar eras were mentioned as far back as 1615 BCE (see, look how good we are) it’s more recently come to the forefront as a more inclusive way to describe calendar eras.

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