Pamela Armstrong Embarks on a PhD

MA alumna Pamela Armstrong

Summer School PhD presentation. Photo: Gaia Somasca

MA alumna Pamela Armstrong has embarked on an her MPhil, the first stage of applying subsequently, to do a PhD. She will be continuing the research she was engaged in when working on her MA which was a study of the skyscapes in what is now known as the Cotswolds in central England. Pamela's previous research looked at the archaeoastronomic properties of Neolithic monuments.

MA alumna Pamela Armstrong

Surveying Pentre Ifan in Wales, UK. Photo: Bernadette Brady

There is much evidence that life styles changed significantly from the time of the Late Mesolithic through the Neolithic and into the Bronze Age. These eras span from about 5300 cal BC to 2000 cal BC. During this transition, hunter-gathering gave way to farming with other cultural changes including the firing of pottery and the appearance of new kinds of funeral monuments made out of huge stones, timber and earth. The technologies required for these radical changes in patterns of subsistence and mortuary practice indicate that new skill sets emerged during what is called the Neolithic transition, ones which had never been seen before.

MA alumna Pamela Armstrong

Preparing to go up on the roof and photograph a solar eclipse

Belas Knap, built in the fourth millennium BC is an example of the new architecture which appeared in south western Britain at this time of cultural change. It is a Neolithic earthen tomb, and it is from this earliest of designs that we then see the Neolithic architecture culmination in the complex we now call Stonehenge which was built in the same region over a thousand years later.

Pamela Armstrong

Surveying the Heel Stone at Stonehenge. Photo: A.J. Gilbert

Pamela will survey a whole range of monuments and structures across south western Britain in order to assess whether they are connected to the sun, moon and stars. It is hoped that this in turn will give insight into cosmological beliefs and time-keeping practices across the eras being studied. Of interest is whether there were continuities of alignment or not as cultural change and shift occurred. Questions to be asked will include whether the sky watchers of prehistory were eclipse predictors, or whether as in the case of Belas Knap its skyscape architects intentionally aligned it northwards because then, as now, the North Star was seen not just as a celestial object but as an entity which symbolised embodied enduring dependability and integrity.

Belas Knap orienting northwards

Belas Knap orienting northwards. Photo:

These questions can only ever end in speculation, but finding patterns of celestial alignment in small scale studies such as the one Pamela is embarking on, will hopefully give us a deeper insight into prehistoric sky watchers, one which expands our knowledge about the wider aspects of the lives and cosmologies of ancient peoples.

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