The excavations at the Tinkinswood sites ended last week. We move on to St Lythan’s Neolithic burial chamber next week, the project is not over! Very exciting times! Although we have left Tinkinswood, we will be back in March 2012 with a fantastic outreach project called ‘Make and Break’ involving two local schools. This will be a chance to look at how the Neolithic tomb builders used and experienced the monument, and to explore our own modern beliefs about burial chambers. There will be a chance for the younger generation to imagine what is was like to be a tomb builder, as they re-create a Neolithic ritual ceremony at the site. Children will have a chance to create a prehistoric pot themselves, and then break it, like several pots were broken at the forecourt at Tinkinswood – on purpose. Make and Break will give the project a dynamic element – even if it is incomplete – to the evidence that is usually displayed inside museum cases.
Everyone has an opinion about Tinkinswood (as we have seen over the last few weeks!) and monuments can be viewed and understood in different ways by different people. Today we bring you a blog by Ginny, who tells us what it’s like to visit and experience Tinkinswood today – from a modern pagan perspective:
Hi. My name is Ginny, and I come to Tinkinswood on a very regular basis. In fact I call Tinkinswood my spiritual home. I feel at ease here, and I suspect that this feeling comes from the thousands of years of occupation and the coming together of people and ideas at this one very special site. I believe, that to understand the significance of ancient sites as sacred areas like Tinkinswood for neo-pagans like myself, we all need to go back and look at the practices and beliefs of the people who lived in the Stone Age.
When we look at the visual evidence of man’s early beliefs and artistic culture, we need to return to the Palaeolithic period. We see wonderful cave paintings dating from about 20,000 years before present, at the Lascaux caves, Dordogne region, France. Here we find hundreds of horses, deer, bison, and ibex amongst others, which are all typical images of the Magdalenian age. Interestingly no depictions of fighting or warfare as in later cultures. It is significant to note that a single human figure wearing skins and stag horn is depicted. We believe him to be a Shamanic god at a time when humans were dependant on animals for survival as they provided meat, furs and bone.
It is thought that the paintings represent an aid in the performance of ritual hunting magic, honouring the animals but also bringing good fortune to the hunters. The Horned God/Shaman is transformed in later Celtic culture to Cernunnos, Pan in Greek mythology and Herne the Hunter (possibly early middle ages). He represents the male element, the primal hunter and provider and protector. Neo-paganism is a polytheistic religion of the God and the Goddess in their various forms.
The female element is provided by the Goddess or Earth Mother who is also depicted in the Palaeolithic Stone Age culture. She represents fertility and nature. Venus images date at least as far back as the Ice Age and commonly take the shape of the fertile rounded female form interpreted as the Mother Goddess.
Near to home the “Red Lady” of Paviland Cave, Gower show signs of ritual burial. This 33,000 year old male is the oldest ceremonial burial in Western Europe. His body was covered in red ochre and provided with the grave goods necessary for the next life. Many Pagans believe in reincarnation and have a view that death, rebirth and regeneration is a stage of spiritual development during each incarnation.
A similarity between ancient and modern Pagan belief is ancestral worship and the fact that ancient forebears were always present. Indeed it has been suggested that ancestral remains were removed from chambers at times and brought together with the living to be present at rituals and celebrations. We believe that Neolithic burial chambers such as Tinkinswood represent the female womb where the departed would be returned to the womb of Mother Earth.
It is interesting to look at the recent archaeological finds from the Tinkinswood site. A Mesolithic microlith indicates activity that pre-dates the main Tinkinswood chamber and could indicate an already important presence. The person who left this flint probably lived in a small nomadic community. Then the Neolithic evidence in the form of pottery and a flint scraper. “Cromlech 2” which has turned out to be a Bronze Age round barrow is interesting as this indicates a continuity of religious reverence by Bronze Age people, and then even later activity shown by the discovery of a Roman coin. It is thought that older Neolithic tombs have been re-used at later periods by the Bronze Age Beaker people for example, and this could indicate a link between their dead and the original tomb builders. It seems that even though ideas about burial had changed, the site remained significant to later populations. Then we see finds from later periods in particular a strong Roman presence in the form of a coin and some Greyware pottery. It seems that there has been human activity on this site for possibly 7-8 thousand years.
Living human activity has continued within sight of the ancients at Tinkinswood: we continue to visit and practice our own commemorative acts and rituals, culminating with our own Handfasting (a Pagan marriage). We also perform our rituals throughout the seasons. A communal group of people share food, drinks and gifts and do so at every seasonal ritual or Full Moon celebration. These are done in a respectful way in which we believe our ancestors would approve.
Blessed Be and Love and Light, Ginny
(Tinkinswood White Witch)