Maud Cunnington's notes

Maud Cunnington's notes taken from:
Woodhenge by M.E Cunnington-A description of the site as revealed by excavations carried out there by Mr and Mrs BH Cunnington 1926/7/8.
Printed and published by George Simpson and co., Devizes, Ltd. 1929.
After Devizes I drove to Avebury, even with all the rain -it had been raining hard all day- the car park was still three quarters full. I was making use of my free parking (NT member you see) and I wanted to go to the shop and buy the labyrinth pendant I'd seen there a few days ago, and Avebury is always a good place to go.

This trip had been nagging at me for weeks, the need to finally read what Maud Cunnington had actually seen, to go and read from her notes; it had become almost unbearable not to go. On Sunday I'd visited Avebury and Woodhenge armed with compass, my family and Vado (little video camera)...but on Tuesday I drove to Devizes alone, for a full two hours of bliss in which to read the excavation notes and to find out exactly what Maud had considered relevant or not, concerning the child found at the centre of the ring.

It is Sir Arthur who tentatively suggests that the 'sacrificial child' is female. But perhaps more importantly Sir Arthur does not say that there are any signs of fractures in the skull bones, all he says is that some of the cranial bones are missing...

When I first visited her tomb, many years ago now, I was filled with sorrow and horror. It didn't matter to me that her body had been removed and her bones lost, or even if the archaeologists had been wrong; I believed that somewhere at sometime a mother had allowed this terrible thing to happen to her daughter in the name of religion.

I thought of Abraham and Isaac and how wrong people can be...for I'd been brought up on stories of the stupidity of war, on Siegfried Sassoon and stories of people who refused to do what they were told...

I find now that my sadness evoked by the Woodhenge site has settled on the missing grave of the man in the ditch....for Maud saw her own son sacrificed in the name of patriotism; her only son was killed in the first world war, yet Maud did not mark the grave of this man, whom Maud would have believed to have been about the same age as her missing son, because Sir Arthur said that it wasn't a Neolithic or Bronze Age burial...Sir Arthur said that the man was probably Iron Age, therefore - because Sir Arthur saw Britain as a closed off island, separate until invaders turned up- not British....

Maud is quite convinced that she has found a murdered infant and yet in the case of the second skeleton, his grave remains unremarked upon and unmarked today. I find it hard to see why Maud who was in a world in which dedicatory human sacrifice is a possibility, didn't consider the body found crouched in a ditch to be deserving of a grave?

Maud thinks that that the burial of the man took place at the same time the ditch was dug, or soon after its completion but she dismisses this find as contemporary because the anatomist charged with examining the bones thinks that the man looks Iron Age.

The loss of evidence by archaeologists in the past is frustrating, but that is now really I hope, a thing of the past. The removal of bodies for display -or even just for scientific research- is a more serious wrong than losing bits of chalk or failing to write everything down.

[ Cunnington 1926. Page 13]:
A small grave was found lying on the line of midsummer sunrise, and at right angles to it.

This grave, with slightly rounded ends, was only a foot deep in the chalk. In the Southern end, the grave being unnecessarily large for a burial lay the crouched skeleton of a child of about three years old. Owing to the decayed condition of the bones, many of them having disappeared all together, it was difficult to determine the exact position, but the body was turned towards the North-East i.e., to the rising sun at midsummer.

It will be seen from the plan that the line of sunrise falls across the Southern end of the grave, across the centre of the burial, though not through the centre of the grave.

A remarkable circumstance in connection with the skeleton is that the skull appears to have been cleft before burial. When the bones were first uncovered it was exclaimed "There must be two skeletons" because there appeared to be two skulls lying side by side, touching one another. But when the bones were removed they proved to be those of only one individual, and what looked like two skulls were actually the two halves of the same skull. It is a common thing to find a skull crushed in the ground, but there seems no way of accounting for its being found lying in two parts, unless it had been cleft before burial.

The other bones, though much decayed, were found lying in their natural order, and there was no sign to suggest that the grave had ever been disturbed. It appears probable, therefore, that this child's burial was in the nature of a dedicatory or sacrificial one. No relics of any kind were found with the skeleton.

[Cunnington 1926. Page 52.]:
I may in a few words dispose of the skeleton of the child found in the centre of the circle. From the fact that all milk teeth are in use and also the crown of the first permanent molars are formed, one may place the age at three and a half years.

The condition and size of the cranial bones (only parts of which were found) and also the limb bones, are in keeping with this estimate. From the size of the teeth and limb bones one infers the remains are those of a girl -but this is not an inference which should be too much depended on. The upper end of the shaft of the femur already shows the front to back flattening and the tibia the side flattening which is so often seen in skeletons of Bronze Age people -but in earlier as well as latter people of Britain.

[Cunnington 1926. Page 82]
The crouched skeleton of a young man was found in a shallow grave dug in the middle of the floor of the ditch in this cutting. The skeleton lay on its side with head towards the South, facing east, arms crossed over the chest with hands up to the shoulders. The grave was length wise with the ditch: sixteen inches deep, four and a half foot long and two and a half foot wide. It was filled with pure chalk rubble, distinct from the silting in the ditch immediately above it, and must therefore, have been filled up before silting had accumulated on the floor of the ditch. On the bottom of the grave on the Eastern side, just in front of the skeleton were: a vertebrae, a rib bone, three teeth and part of another large bone, all of ox.

[Cunnington 1926. Page 54.]
It is remarkable that the man from the bottom of the ditch bears a striking resemblance to skulls found during the course of excavations at Casterley Camp, Salisbury Plain: 1909 -1912

[Cunnington 1926. Page: 52.]
A slim man five feet seven inches tall all his teeth free from disease -but certain of his bones have not ceased growing. Wrist bones are finished so is knee and shoulder. Epiphyses of hip and shoulder blade are un-closed.

Sagittal suture if fussed which makes him older than thirty-five -but other signs show him to be less than twenty-two.

His face and appearance different to that of Bronze Age people.

It will be seen that the lower jaw is not only very narrow but the front teeth, instead of continuing forwards on a level with the back teeth, rise up above them to compensate for a defective growth in the corresponding part of the upper jaw and upper face.

[QUOTE] He has not the face form of our Neolithic people nor the head form of the Bronze Age people, therefore I think we are compelled to place him in the Iron Age.

In the past the removal of human remains was justified because the archaeologists didn't really seem to regard the skeletons as having any rights; their sole function was as a curiosity and to provide knowledge. The respect shown was confined to taking care that the body remained intact, but of course bones are too often lost forever, once they have been dug up.

I hope this too is now a thing of the past - for destroying the ancient graves it is an act of both ignorance and arrogance.

The myths we live by play a crucial role in determining behaviour, and I hope that now we have enough education to be able to respect the mythologies of other cultures.

Britain was once a Christian country and in Christian mythology, a body should be kept whole and buried in 'Sacred' ground, ready for resurrection. The practice of cremation, rather than burial, was indigenous in Britain during the late Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. With the introduction of Christianity cremation became rare, and had ended by the 5th century.

In the 19th century a new mythology of health and hygiene -plus the evidence from over stuffed graveyard- made cremation acceptable: the cholera epidemic of 1848/49 left almost 15,000 dead in London alone- did much to change burial practices in Britain. Nevertheless medieval artistic representations of 'The end of the world' show corpses getting up, out of their graves for the 'Final Judgment'.

When the Cunningtons removed the bones from Woodhenge ditch they were abiding by the rules of their mythology. The bones were taken to a scientifically 'sacred' space to provide information, so that the bones may *speak* telling a story of the age of the deceased and his or her living conditions and provide knowledge. The Christian sentiment that the bones should be kept together was incidentally respected.

But removing the bones from their place of burial destroys knowledge and may well lead -as in the case of the Woodhenge child- to the destruction of the bones. It would have been better for everyone if the bones had been left in place.

I cannot see a sarcophagus with its mummy displayed without knowing how offensive this is to the beliefs of the people who took such care to preserve their dead in this way. The Ancient Egyptian concept of death is portrayed as a journey through the land of night; through The Amduaat. The funerary text known as 'The Twelve Gates' describes the destruction (at the second and I think the fifth hours?) of those souls who have not received proper burial rites.

It was considered *improper* to be buried in such a way that ones corpse will be disturbed, for the preserved body acts as a kind of source-code for the virtual/spiritual aspect.

The soul, in Christian mythology is thought of as *eternal* this is not so for the ancient Egyptians. By digging up and removing the body from its burial ground, the person whose remains have been *stolen* dies twice.

It is offensive to act as if one's truth is the only truth when that particular truth cannot be tested.

Most of us do not believe in the soul, contemporary myth mirrors our understanding of computers and hence the soul is regarded as an emergent property of myriad neurones, and death as a final *shutting down* but in the past, around the time when agriculture was *new technology* life and death were seen in terms of seeds and a mysterious germination process taking place under the ground.

It is only guess work when considering Neolithic beliefs, but it seems to me that the burial of a whole body, rather than cremation was an act of enriching the earth, and of binding a soul to a particular place.

The concept of a preserved body acting as a source for an astral body that is free to return to the stars is maintained in Taoist beliefs and was at the heart of the ancient Egyptian view.

But it is also common for death to inspire fear, hence the need for complex burial or preservation rituals and to place the remains within the protection of a sacred space. A corpse that has neither been cremated or subject to complex embalming processes is a different kind of corpse. There is fear that the body will be possessed by a spirit, reanimate and become a zombie or that the corpse under ground acts through the soil, that the ground above the body becomes 'hungry grass'.

What did the burial of that young man at Woodhenge mean?

Did it mean that the whole ditch (his place of sacrifice?) was now dangerous?

(Mike Pitts. Hengeworld. 2001. Page 132). tracked down the skeleton of the man in the Woodhenge ditch; Jackie McKinley took a look at them. Jackie described the skeleton as having 'long legs' and would have been 5 foot 7 inch in height (Mike Pitts.pp132) not much of his pelvis remained, but the long bones 'looked male'.

Regarding pathology, he had troublesome teeth -his 'milk teeth' in the back of his mouth (molars) had not fallen out and his adult teeth had not erupted to push them out.

This makes me think of cleidocranial dysplasia, a genetic condition which delays the fusion of the long bones (bones generally 'fuse' at the age of twenty one -it depends which bone of course) but someone with cleidocranial dysplasia would have a different 'bone age' to his 'real age' if you see what I mean?

If he had cleidocranial dysplasia his bones would be younger than his actual days lived.

Jackie describes him as ' a young adult, eighteen to twenty-five, perhaps no more than twenty-one (some of his epiphyses, the articular ends, are not quite fused to his long bones' (Mike Pitts. pp 132) . His skull size isn't characteristic of someone with cleidocranial dysplasia, though. It is dolichocephalic with a cranial index of 67.3 people with cleidocranial dysplasia usually have brachycephalic skulls.

On the other hand Jackie describes the skull as 'long between the nose and teeth. His mandible's very narrow, too. He's got a narrow face with a flat forehead. Quite distinctive...' (Mike Pitts. pp132) . The mandible could indicate cleidocranial dysplasia?

Without all the information being available, I've no way to make an informed guess.

He also had what most archaeologists take to mean as a sign of poor nutrition, cribra orbitalis. This is a pitting in the top of the eye sockets and taken to be a sign of a lack of iron in the diet (leading to anaemia), though as other have pointed out, lack of blood cells may be due to other things. There may be a link between cribia orbitalis and scurvy and megoblastic anaemia (lack of B12) in which case it is interesting to ask what does this tell us about living conditions at the time this boy died?

It tells a story of a restricted diet, not enough meat, dairy products or eggs or of too many incidents of diarrhoea -especially when young. I guess, anyone who has experience the Glastonbury festival could understand this.

The question remains though, was it human sacrifice?

Frazer's The Golden Bough. is full of stories reported to him by ex-pats and missionary clergymen, in short his prime sources of data were ancient histories, and questionnaires mailed by himself to missionaries and Imperial officials all over the globe. Frazer was championed by The Cambridge Ritualists who were instrumental in transforming myth into legend -taking myth and reading it as if it were a half remembered account of a true occurrence- the Cambridge Ritualists were sure maenads once ran wild at night tearing animals into bloody chunks -Sparagmos- because that is what the myth (or rather Euripides in The Bacchae) had said....but Euripides was writing plays (often to make political points) and using mythology as a metaphor, never as history.

The Golden Bough, with its many recorded incidents of bloody sacrifice seemed to make a convincing argument for this life-death-rebirth ritual -for there was so much information and plenty of descriptions of natives dancing wildly around fires and the victim's inevitable and horrible demise- that appealed to a post Victorian Britain. The Golden Bough is shocking and reassuring at the same time. It reassured by showing 'us' how far we had come and yet what darkness still surrounded us, reassuring to know that 'we' still have work to be done, to bring natives into the light...It shocked by portraying Christianity as just one more form of the same, fundamental myth.

I will be returning to the Golden Bough, but for now I leave you with this:
But the best known case of human sacrifices, systematically offered to ensure good crops, is supplied by the Khonds or Kandhs, another Dravidian race in Bengal. Our knowledge of them is derived from the accounts written by British officers who, about the middle of the nineteenth century, were engaged in putting them down...continue to read from The Golden Bough....