‘If you would be remembered, build!’ advised some long-gone ruler. The Mausoleum at Halicarnasasus, built in the mid-4th century for King Mausollos of Caria, in south-west Turkey, lasted for 16 centuries. Far outstripping that is Seahenge, which is reputed to have been made in the 21st century BC, during the early Bronze Age in Britain, time that saw the increasing adoption of agriculture and sedentary living.
A massive upturned tree stump, surrounded by 54 wooden finger posts, Seahenge was revealed to a disbelieving world in 1998 at Holme Dunes near Hunstanton by shifting sands and shingle and a restless tide.
Using a variety of techniques, archaeologists concluded that the trees used in the construction had been felled in the same year, 2049BC, with the sap suggesting they had been cut in Spring. This suggested that the building was completed as a single event.
Those who made the construction used at last fifty different axes made of bronze, tools which were still relatively rare and had only been introduced to the country a few centuries before.
But what was it created for, 4000 years ago? Was it a temple or ritual funeral site? Surely the upturned tree stump was an ‘altar’? Was it a cattle enclosure, similar to structures found in Ireland?
There was an immediate kerfuffle over what to do with the new find. Leave it or remove it to somewhere it could be preserved.
Locals felt that it should be left alone, to return from where it came when the sea decided but in the meantime bringing in sightseers to gawp. Likewise, neopagans argued the same, suggesting it was an insult to the original builders’ religious beliefs to tamper with the site. ‘By removing it they are killing its spirit,’ said druid Buster Nolan.
But after then-English Heritage chairman Sir Jocelyn Stevens claimed it ‘one of the most exciting and enthralling archaeological discoveries of our time’, the experts moved in.
Seahenge was removed to Flag Fen near Peterborough where it was continually soaked in wax-emulsified water to slowly replace the salt water in the wood with wax. It was later transferred to Portsmouth where further work was undertaken by the team who looked after the Mary Rose. You can now see a recreated Seahenge at the refurbished King’s Lynn Museum.