Stonehenge (16 kilometers north of Salisbury, 137 kilometers west of London) is the famous group of 3500 year old standing stones. Believed to have been a calendar, or possibly a religious center, it consists of rocks organized into two main circles and two horseshoes, that were in turn are surrounded by a circular mound of earth 300 feet in diameter. A henge refers to a particular type of earthwork of the Neolithic period, typically consisting of a roughly circular or oval-shaped bank with an internal ditch surrounding a central flat area of more than 20 meters in diameter. Henges of various types are found throughout Britain and include the Standing Stones o' Stenness on the northern island of Orkney and the Maumbury Rings in southern England county of Dorset.
The Stonehenge that is visible today is thought to have been completed about 3,500 years ago, although the first earthwork henge is thought to date back to 3050 B.C. — long before Greek temples, or even the Pyramids of Giza, were built — and was constructed by people with neither metal or writing. The builders affixed the stones with mortise and tenon (hole and peg) fasteners and used digging tools made from sharped bones and antlers taken from slaughtered animals. Dating cremated bone fragments of men, women and children found at site puts origin of first circle to around 3,000 B.C., 500 years earlier than originally thought.
In its day Stonehenge was at the center of the largest ceremonial center in Europe. The belief that the structure was a calendar or some kind of astronomical observatory is based on the fact that one stone is aligned with summer solstice and others appear to predict solar and lunar eclipses and line up with the sun's position on other important solar days. Yet other stones are oriented toward cycles of the moon, the four station stones seemed to be lined up with the extremes of the midsummer moonrise.
During the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, when the sun's reaches it highest point in the sky, sunlight passes directly over a pointer rock outside the stone circle and sunbeams shine straight down a track called The Avenue onto the "altar stone" in the center.
Stonehenge was dating by examining a ditch that encircles the stones and is regarded as one of the oldest places at the site. Antlers in the ditch were dated using Carbon 14 to be 5,000 years old. Archaeologists say Stonhedge probably wasn't constructed or used for religious ceremonies. Similar groups of standings stones are found all over Europe, but Stonehenge is the largest and best preserved.
According to UNESCO: “Stonehenge is one of the most impressive prehistoric megalithic monuments in the world on account of the sheer size of its megaliths, the sophistication of its concentric plan and architectural design, the shaping of the stones - uniquely using both Wiltshire Sarsen sandstone and Pembroke Bluestone - and the precision with which it was built. Stonehenge is the most architecturally sophisticated prehistoric stone circle in the world. It is unrivalled in its design and unique engineering, featuring huge horizontal stone lintels capping the outer circle and the trilithons, locked together by carefully shaped joints. It is distinguished by the unique use of two different kinds of stones (Bluestones and Sarsens), their size (the largest weighing over 40 tons) and the distance they were transported (up to 240 kilometers). The sheer scale of some of the surrounding monuments is also remarkable: the Stonehenge Cursus and the Avenue are both about 3 kilometers long, while Durrington Walls is the largest known henge in Britain, around 500 meters in diameter, demonstrating the ability of prehistoric peoples to conceive, design and construct features of great size and complexity. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage sites website]
Categories with related articles in this website: First Villages, Early Agriculture and Bronze, Copper and Late Stone Age Humans (33 articles) factsanddetails.com; Modern Humans 400,000-20,000 Years Ago (35 articles) factsanddetails.com; Mesopotamian History and Religion (35 articles) factsanddetails.com; Mesopotamian Culture and Life (38 articles) factsanddetails.com
Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; Prehistoric Art witcombe.sbc.edu/ARTHprehistoric ; Evolution of Modern Humans anthro.palomar.edu ; Iceman Photscan iceman.eurac.edu/ ; Otzi Official Site iceman.it Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Britannica britannica.com/; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture Wikipedia ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication geochembio.com; Food Timeline, History of Food foodtimeline.org ; Food and History teacheroz.com/food ;
Archaeology News and Resources: Anthropology.net anthropology.net : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; archaeologica.org archaeologica.org is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe archeurope.com features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine archaeology.org has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine archaeology.co.uk is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily heritagedaily.com is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience livescience.com/ : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons : online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel archaeologychannel.org explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites besthistorysites.net is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities essential-humanities.net: provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory
Book: “Stonehenge” by John North
Stonehenge contains the world's largest trilithons (megalithic structures consisting of two upright stones and a third across the top as a lintel). Although a few of the stones have toppled over, the ancient monument for the most part has retained its original shape. The largest of 80 or so stones stands 21 feet, weighs 50 tons, is buried in the ground at a depth of eight feet, and would have required 550 men to pull it up a 9-degree gradient. Two different kinds of stones — Bluestones and Sarsens — were used. The Sarsens, the largest stones, make up the outer ring. The Bluestones, transported to the Stonehenge site from Wales, are smaller and make up the inner ring.
Most of the stones were raised about 1500 B.C. mostly likely using the following method: 1) putting a large stone on a ramp, and pushing it so it leans over the edge of the ramp; 2) sliding a a smaller stone on a larger stone, which causes that large stone to fall in an upright position. 3) sliding lintel (tops) on the standing stones with large ramps. The 35-ton Heel Stone was brought from 24 miles away.
David Keys wrote in The Independent: A laser survey showed “that the prehistoric stone masons, who helped create Stonehenge, used two different stone-working techniques. The stone-dressing work on the monument’s great circle (both uprights and lintels) was accomplished by working parallel to the long sides of the stones, while the five stone ‘trilithons’ (the great horse-shoe arrangement of linteled stones) within the great circle were dressed by working at right-angles to the sides of the stones. This previously unknown fact – revealed by the laser scan operation – suggests that the great ‘trilithons’ may have been constructed slightly before the great circle rather than being contemporary with it”.[Source: David Keys, The Independent, October 9, 2012 |~|]
Moving Stonehenge’s Bluestones
The Stonehenge bluestones originated in the Preseli Mountains of west Wales. Some think they were quarried there and pulled 216 miles across Britain by large groups of men who rolled the stones on logs. Many scientists now believe the stones were carried most of the way by water. Some think the stones were found a few miles from Stonehenge and were moved there naturally from Wales by ice-age glaciers.
Thea Chard wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The 82 bluestones — the double circle of large rocks, some weighing as much as 4 tons — were brought to Stonehenge during the second stage of Stonehenge, which began about 2150 B.C. and account for the first stone construction at the site. About 150 years later, these were rearranged and surrounded by a circle of the much larger sarsen stones that define Stonehenge we know today. Some scientists believe the bluestones were transported manually from Wales. Others say it is possible that the former Irish Sea Glacier pushed the stones to Salisbury. If the bluestones were hauled to the Salisbury Plain from the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, Wales, researchers say understanding why they were moved holds the key to understanding Stonehenge. [Source:Thea Chard, Los Angeles Times, Sunday, May 11, 2008]
Ed Caesar wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “How did the bluestones, which weigh between four and eight tons apiece, arrive at the site, nearly 5,000 years ago, from 170 miles away in West Wales? Land or sea? Both alternatives explode with possibilities, and nobody has an impregnable theory. Mike Parker Pearson of University College London is working on a new idea that the bluestones might have been lifted onto huge wooden lattices and carried by dozens of men to the site. But it’s just a theory. We can’t know, definitively. We can only have better-informed questions.” [Source: Ed Caesar, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2014 /+]
Avebury (20 miles north of Stonehenge) is a another megalith site that is not as impressive as Stonehenge, but it is older and not roped off. Located among rolling green hills and often compared with Carnac stones in Brittany, it is a deep circular ditch with ring of stones dating to around 2500 B.C. It is the largest of its kind in Europe and draws 350,000 visitors every year.
Of the more than 400 stones that made up the circle 68 remain. The largest one weighs 50 tons and is about the size of a bus buried nose first in the ground. Within the main circle are the remains of two smaller circles and an avenue of stones. The stones were taken from nearby hills. In 1930s, five men using a steel rope, leaves and wooden scaffolding, took five days to raise an eight-ton stone.
The village of Avebury actually encroaches into the ring. The village is there because in the old days when no one cared much about archeology a coach road to Bath passed right through the stone circle
According to UNESCO: “At Avebury, the massive Henge, containing the largest prehistoric stone circle in the world, and Silbury Hill, the largest prehistoric mound in Europe, demonstrate the outstanding engineering skills which were used to create masterpieces of earthen and megalithic architecture. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage sites website =] “Avebury prehistoric stone circle is the largest in the world. The encircling henge consists of a huge bank and ditch 1.3 kilometers in circumference, within which 180 local, unshaped standing stones formed the large outer and two smaller inner circles. Leading from two of its four entrances, the West Kennet and Beckhampton Avenues of parallel standing stones still connect it with other monuments in the landscape. Another outstanding monument, Silbury Hill, is the largest prehistoric mound in Europe. Built around 2400 BC, it stands 39.5 meters high and comprises half a million tonnes of chalk. The purpose of this imposing, skilfully engineered monument remains obscure. =
Other Archaeological Sites Near Stonehenge
Other Megalithic sites in the area include Silbury Hill (near Avebury), the largest Burial mound in Europe. It is a 120 foot-high burial mound with a half mile circumference, The Ridgeway is an ancient primeval path that runs from northeast to southwest past a number of small archeological sites. There are a total of 450 archeological sites in the Stonehenge and Ayenbury area. Many of them are burial mounds and longbarrows — long ridges associated with burial rites.
At another site in the area is a group of giant horse figures that have been carved into white chalk cliffs. Near Uffington England Celtic tribes constructed a 360-foot-long horse figure in the first century B.C. that resembles the famous Nazca line drawings in Peru. Chiseled out of chalk hill, the figure is best appreciated from an airplane, where but can be seen for 20 miles away. Some say it looks more like a cat.
According to UNESCO: “There is an exceptional survival of prehistoric monuments and sites within the World Heritage property including settlements, burial grounds, and large constructions of earth and stone. Today, together with their settings, they form landscapes without parallel. These complexes would have been of major significance to those who created them, as is apparent by the huge investment of time and effort they represent. They provide an insight into the mortuary and ceremonial practices of the period, and are evidence of prehistoric technology, architecture and astronomy. The careful siting of monuments in relation to the landscape helps us to further understand the Neolithic and Bronze Age. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage sites website =]
Raphael G. Satter of Associated Press wrote: “The whole area around Stonehenge is dotted with prehistoric cemeteries — some of which predate the monument itself — and new discoveries are made occasionally.” In 2009, “researchers said they had found a small circle of stones on the banks of the nearby River Avon. Experts speculated the stone circle — dubbed "Bluehenge" because it was built with bluestones — may have served as the starting point of a processional walk that began at the river and ended at Stonehenge. A stone's throw from the newly found henge is a formation known as the Cursus, a 3-kilometer-long (1.8-mile-long) earthwork whose purpose remains unknown. Also nearby is a puzzling chunk of land known as the Northern Kite Enclosure; Bronze Age farmers seem to have avoided cultivating crops there, although no one is sure quite why.” [Source: Raphael G. Satter, Associated Press, July 24, 2010]
A new structure was found in 2010 “when scans identified a cluster of deep pits surrounded by a ring of smaller holes about 900 meters (a little over half a mile) from Stonehenge and within sight of its famous standing stones. University of Birmingham archaeologist Henry Chapman said he was convinced the small holes were used to secure a circle of wooden poles which stood "possibly three or more meters (10 or more feet) high." The timber henge — a name given to prehistoric monuments surrounded by a circular ditch — would have been constructed and modified at the same time as its more famous relative, and probably had some allied ceremonial or religious function, Chapman said in a telephone interview from Stonehenge. Exactly what kind of ceremonies those were is unclear. The new henge joins a growing complex of tombs and mysterious Neolithic structures found across the area. The closest equivalent is probably the nearby Woodhenge, a monument once composed of six rings of wooden posts enclosed by an earth embankment. Excavations there in the 1970s revealed the body of child whose skull had been split buried at the center of the henge — hinting at the possibility of human sacrifice.”
UNESCO on Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites
According to UNESCO: “Stonehenge and Avebury, in Wiltshire, are among the most famous groups of megaliths in the world and internationally important complexes of outstanding prehistoric monuments.. The two sanctuaries consist of circles of menhirs arranged in a pattern whose astronomical significance is still being explored. These holy places and the nearby Neolithic sites are an incomparable testimony to prehistoric times. = [Source: UNESCO World Heritage sites website =]
Stonehenge is the most architecturally sophisticated prehistoric stone circle in the world, while Avebury is the largest. Together with inter-related monuments, and their associated landscapes, they demonstrate Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial and mortuary practices resulting from around 2000 years of continuous use and monument building between circa 3700 and 1600 BC. As such they represent a unique embodiment of our collective heritage.” =
The Stonehenge and Avebury sites comprises two areas of Chalkland in southern Britain within which complexes of Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial and funerary monuments and associated sites were built. Each area contains a focal stone circle and henge and many other major monuments. At Stonehenge these include the Avenue, the Cursuses, Durrington Walls, Woodhenge, and the densest concentration of burial mounds in Britain. At Avebury they include Windmill Hill, the West Kennet Long Barrow, the Sanctuary, Silbury Hill, the West Kennet and Beckhampton Avenues, the West Kennet Palisaded Enclosures, and important barrows. =
UNESCO on Why Stonehenge and Avebury Are Important
According to UNESCO, Stonehenge, Avebury and associated sites are important because: 1) They “demonstrate outstanding creative and technological achievements in prehistoric times; 2) They provides an outstanding illustration of the evolution of monument construction and of the continual use and shaping of the landscape over more than 2000 years, from the early Neolithic to the Bronze Age. The monuments and landscape have had an unwavering influence on architects, artists, historians and archaeologists, and still retain a huge potential for future research. The megalithic and earthen monuments of the World Heritage property demonstrate the shaping of the landscape through monument building for around 2000 years from circa 3700 BC, reflecting the importance and wide influence of both areas. =
“3) The complexes of monuments at Stonehenge and Avebury provide an exceptional insight into the funerary and ceremonial practices in Britain in the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Together with their settings and associated sites, they form landscapes without parallel. The design, position and interrelationship of the monuments and sites are evidence of a wealthy and highly organised prehistoric society able to impose its concepts on the environment. An outstanding example is the alignment of the Stonehenge Avenue (probably a processional route) and Stonehenge stone circle on the axis of the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset, indicating their ceremonial and astronomical character. At Avebury the length and size of some of the features such as the West Kennet Avenue, which connects the Henge to the Sanctuary over 2 kilometers away, are further evidence of this. =
“A profound insight into the changing mortuary culture of the periods is provided by the use of Stonehenge as a cremation cemetery, by the West Kennet Long Barrow, the largest known Neolithic stone-chambered collective tomb in southern England, and by the hundreds of other burial sites illustrating evolving funerary rites.” =
Durrington Walls: Home of Stonehenge’s Builders and Religious Community?
Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield uncovered evidence of a village in Durrington Walls, a few kilometers away from the Stonehenge. He “believes that Stonehenge's true significance is in its relationship to a sister temple found at Durrington Walls. Together, he believes, the temples served as meccas for religious observance - Durrington Walls a site of feasts for the living, Stonehenge a series of statues of the dead.” [Source: Thea Chard, Los Angeles Times, Sunday, May 11, 2008]
In 2003, Parker Pearson conducted a survey concentrating on Durrington Walls and the area between there and the River Avon. Ed Caesar wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Based on huts, tools and animal bones he uncovered, he concluded that Durrington Walls likely housed the workers who built Stonehenge. Based on an analysis of human remains he later excavated from Stonehenge, he also surmised that, far from being a site of quotidian religious activity, Stonehenge served as a cemetery–a “place for the dead.” [Source: Ed Caesar, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2014 /+]
Maev Kennedy wrote in The Guardian: “Parker Pearson believes his” excavation at Durrington Walls, “which uncovered hut sites, tools, pots and mountains of animal bones – the largest Stone Age site in north-west Europe – is evidence of a seasonal work camp for the Stonehenge builders, who quarried, dragged and shaped more than 2,000 tons of stone to build the monument. Analysis of the animal bones shows some of them travelled huge distances – from as far as Scotland – and were slaughtered at Durrington in mid-summer and mid-winter: "Not so much bring a bottle as bring a cow or a pig," Parker Pearson said. [Source: Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, March 9, 2013]
At Least Some Stonehenge Builders Were Welsh
According to a study published in 2018, at least some of the builders of Stonehenge were Welsh. Rob Waugh wrote in Yahoo News UK: “Stonehenge’s ‘bluestones’ came from west Wales – and analysis of skulls found at the site, suggests that the workers may have travelled from Wales. An analysis of 25 skull bones left over from being cremated at the site found at least 10 did not live near Stonehenge prior to their death. [Source: Rob Waugh, Yahoo News UK, August 3, 2018 +++]
“Instead the highest strontium isotope ratios in the remains were consistent with living in western Britain, a region that includes west Wales. Although strontium isotope ratios alone cannot distinguish between places with similar values, this connection suggests west Wales as the most likely origin of at least some of these people. +++
“The 25 skulls were originally excavated from a network of 56 pits in the 1920s, placed around the inner circumference and ditch of Stonehenge, known as ‘Aubrey Holes’. The cremated human bone came from an early phase of the site’s history around 3000 BC, when it was mainly used as a cemetery. Lead author John Pouncett, spatial technology officer at Oxford’s School of Archaeology, said: ‘The powerful combination of stable isotopes and spatial technology gives us a new insight into the communities who built Stonehenge. ‘The cremated remains from the enigmatic Aubrey Holes and updated mapping of the biosphere suggest that people from the Preseli Mountains not only supplied the bluestones used to build the stone circle, but moved with the stones and were buried there too.’ +++
“Lead author Associate Professor in Scientific and Prehistoric Archaeology Dr Rick Schulting at Oxford, explained: ‘Some of the people’s remains showed strontium isotope signals consistent with west Wales, the source of the bluestones that are now being seen as marking the earliest monumental phase of the site.’” +++
Stonehenge Surrounded by Temples and Shrines
Advanced metal detectors, sensors and lasers, have helped archaeologists find Neolithic-age wood and stone temples and shrines near Stonehenge. Associated Press reported: “An extraordinary hidden complex of archaeological monuments has been uncovered around Stonehenge using new methods of subterranean scanning. The finds, dating back 6,000 years, include evidence of 17 previously unknown wooden or stone shrines and temples as well as dozens of burial mounds which have been mapped in minute detail. Most of the monuments are merged into the landscape and invisible to the casual eye. [Source: Associated Press, September 9, 2014]
“The four-year study, the largest geophysical survey ever undertaken, covered an area of 12 square kilometres and penetrated to a depth of three metres. British project leader Professor Vincent Gaffney, from the University of Birmingham, said: ''New monuments have been revealed, as well as new types of monument that have previously never been seen by archaeologists. All of this information has been placed within a single digital map, which will guide how Stonehenge and its landscape are studied in the future.
“The investigators used a battery of state-of-the-art instruments including magnetometers - essentially advanced metal detectors - ground-penetrating radar arrays, electromagnetic sensors and lasers. Among the new discoveries are massive prehistoric pits, some of which appear to form astronomical alignments. New information has also come to light about known monuments, including the Durrington Walls ''super-henge'' situated a short distance from Stonehenge. The survey showed that Durrington Walls, which has a circumference of nearly a mile, was once flanked by as many as 60 massive posts or stones up to three metres high. Among the many burial mounds is a striking long barrow 33 metres long within which signs of a massive timber building were found. Evidence suggests this was the site of complex rituals involving the dead, including the removal of flesh and limbs.
“Prof Gaffney said the new work showed that Stonehenge was not an isolated structure on the edge of Salisbury Plain, but the centre of a complex widespread arrangement of ritualistic monuments that had grown and expanded over time. ''The presence of monuments generates activity which generates more monuments,'' he told a press conference at the British Science Festival at the University of Birmingham. ''What we're seeing is this unconscious elaboration of the Stonehenge landscape.''You've got Stonehenge which is clearly a very large ritual structure which is attracting people from large parts of the country. But around it people are creating their own shrines and temples. We can see the whole landscape is being used in very complex ways.''
“The way Stonehenge and its surroundings were laid out was a ''highly theatrical arrangement,'' he said. As one approached the monument via an ancient procession route, it gradually emerged from the landscape. ''It's truly impressive, and you get some feeling for how processional activities affected people,'' said Prof Gaffney. Colleague Professor Wolfgang Neubauer, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute in Austria, described Stonehenge as being ''more or less in the bottom of a really big national arena''. He added: ''You have all these burial mounds along the horizon looking down at the stones.''
Stonehenge Stones Covered by Images of Ax Heads
A detailed laser-scan survey of all the stones of Stonehenge revealed 72 previously unknown Early Bronze Age carvings chipped into five of the giant stones.David Keys wrote in The Independent: “All of the newly discovered prehistoric art works are invisible to the naked eye – and have only come to light following a laser-scan survey which recorded literally billions of points micro-topographically on the surfaces of the monument’s 83 surviving stones. In total, some 850 gigabytes of information was collected. Detailed analysis of that data – carried out on behalf of English Heritage – found that images had been engraved on the stones, normally by removing the top 1-3 millimetres of weathered (darker coloured) rock, to produce different sized shapes. Of the 72 newly discovered images revealed through the data analysis, 71 portray Bronze Age axe-heads and one portrays a Bronze Age dagger. [Source: David Keys, The Independent, October 9, 2012 |~|]
“Prior to the laser survey, 46 other carvings (also of axe-heads and daggers) were known or suspected at Stonehenge – mostly identified visually back in the 1950s. The laser-scan survey has now confirmed the existence of those other images and provided more details about them. The 72 new ‘rock art’ discoveries almost treble the number of carvings known at Stonehenge – and the monument’s largely invisible art gallery now constitutes the largest single collection of prehistoric rock carvings in southern Britain. Although now largely invisible to the naked eye, back in the Early Bronze Age the images, composed of then-unweathered (and therefore lighter coloured) stone would have been clearly visible. |~|
“In the period 1800-1500 B.C., vast numbers of individual monumental tombs were constructed in the landscape around Stonehenge and additional features (various circles of ritual pits) were laid out around the monument. The carved axe-heads and daggers also belong to this enigmatic period – and may signify some sort of expansion or change in the great stone circle’s religious function. |~|
“In Indo-European tradition axe-heads were often associated with storm deities – and some surviving European folklore beliefs suggest that upwards-facing axe blades were used as magical talismans to protect crops, people and property against lightning and storm damage. It’s potentially significant that every single one of the Stonehenge axe-head images have their blades pointing skywards, while the daggers point downwards. The axe-heads – the vast majority of the images – may therefore have been engraved as votive offerings to placate a storm deity and thus protect crops. It may also be significant that the vast majority of the carvings either face a nearby set of tombs (from roughly the same period) – or the centre of Stonehenge itself. Rare evidence from elsewhere in Britain suggests that axe-head and dagger carvings could have funerary associations. |~|
“The laser-scan data shows that many of the axe-head images have exactly the same dimensions as up to half a dozen other images in the prehistoric Stonehenge ‘art gallery’. This in turn suggests that real axe-heads were being used as ‘stencils’ to help produce the images. If that’s the case, the largest axe-heads portrayed – up to 46 centimetres long – depict objects which were far bigger than archaeologists have ever found and which must have been for purely ceremonial or ritual use. The laser-scan survey was carried out for English Heritage by a Derby-based survey company – the Greenhatch Group – last year. A subsidiary of York Archaeological Trust – ArcHeritage, also operating on behalf of English Heritage – then spent many months analysing and cataloguing the vast quantities of data.”
Purpose of Stonehenge
There are a number of theories regarding the main purpose of Stonehenge, which include an astronomical observatory, a religious temple of healing, a burial ground and the end of a procession route. Maev Kennedy wrote in The Guardian: “Archaeologists have argued for centuries about what Stonehenge really meant to the people who gave hundreds of thousands of hours to constructing circles of bluestones shipped from Wales, and sarsens the size of double-decker buses dragged across Salisbury plain. Druids and New Age followers still claim the site as their sacred place. Others have judged it a temple, an observatory, a solar calendar, a site for fairs or ritual feasting or – one of the most recent theories – a centre for healing, a sort of Stone Age Lourdes.” [Source: Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, March 9, 2013]
Thea Chard wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Over the years, Stonehenge's legends have been many. Some said the devil bought the stones from a woman in Ireland; another story suggests they were placed on the plain by the wizard Merlin; others have sworn that aliens built the monument and left it as a place for worship, or that Druids built it as a temple for sacrificial ceremonies. "You could put 10 archaeologists in a room, and you'd get at least 11 theories," said Dr. Andrew Fitzpatrick of Wessex Archaeology, a private company which manages Stonehenge. "I think the one thing everybody would agree on is that Stonehenge is a temple, which is easy to lose sight of in the kind of to-ing and fro-ing of ideas."[Source: Thea Chard, Los Angeles Times, Sunday, May 11, 2008]
Ed Caesar wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “The joys and frustrations of all archaeological study—perhaps all historical inquiry—come into particularly sharp relief at Stonehenge. Even to the most casual observer, the monument is deeply significant. Those vast stones, standing in concentric rings in the middle of a basin on Salisbury Plain, carefully placed by who-knows-who thousands of years ago, must mean something. But nobody can tell us what. Not exactly. The clues that remain will always prove insufficient to our curiosity. Each archaeological advance yields more questions, and more theories to be tested. Our ignorance shrinks by fractions. What we know is always dwarfed by what we can never know. Take the big question: Was Stonehenge predominantly a temple, a parliament or a graveyard? Was it a healing ground? We don’t know, for sure. We know that people were buried there, and that the stones are aligned in astronomically important ways. We also understand, because of the chemical composition of animal bones found nearby and the provenance of the stones, that people traveled hundreds of miles to visit Stonehenge. But we cannot say, with certainty, why. [Source: Ed Caesar, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2014]
David Keys wrote in The Independent: “It’s known that, when the main phase of the monument was initially built in the middle of the third millennium B.C., it was designed primarily as a solar temple, aligned on the mid-winter and mid-summer solstices. But, as Stonehenge evolved over subsequent centuries, the extent to which other religious functions were added is not yet known. Certainly, in the period 1800-1500 B.C., vast numbers of individual monumental tombs were constructed in the landscape around Stonehenge and additional features (various circles of ritual pits) were laid out around the monument.” [Source: David Keys, The Independent, October 9, 2012 |~|]
Examinations of the stone surfaces show they were finely worked and the entire temple was constructed to be viewed primarily from the north-east. “That’s the side of the monument which is approached by what archaeologists have long believed to be a processional way, aligned with the solstices. Because, it now seems that Stonehenge was built to be viewed from that direction, it suggests that some sort of religious procession made its way towards the monument, along that route, probably on mid-winter’s and mid-summer’s day.
Detailed analysis of the data also shows that one of the stones at the now ruinous south-west side of the monument was also very deliberately worked and shaped to allow a line of sight through to the setting sun on mid-winter’s day. This, along with other new evidence, suggests that the south-west side of the monument was once fully functional – and will reduce support for those who have, up till now, argued that Stonehenge was never completed. The implication therefore is that at some stage in its history there was a deliberate attempt at its destruction.
Was Stonehenge a Health Center?
Some scholars think the bluestones were believed to have therapeutic value and that is why they were moved to central England from Wales. Thea Chard wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Tim Darvill, a professor at the University of Bournemouth, and Geoff Wainwright, president of the Society of Antiquaries of London, have spent the last six years researching Stonehenge and the rocky outcrop Carn Menyn, thought to be the exact site in the Preseli Hills from which the bluestones were taken. Darvill and Wainwright found the Welsh site to be a center for ceremony and burials, where the springs that flowed below the rocks were regarded by ancients as having medicinal powers. [Source: Thea Chard, Los Angeles Times, Sunday, May 11, 2008 */]
Once the bluestones arrive here, “this monument becomes very different from any other kind of monument in the British Isles. ... And when they come here they elevate this monument into something rather special," Darvill said. "You can make the analogy with a medieval cathedral - it's a bog-standard Paris church until they get those relics, and at that point it becomes a beautiful, marvelous building," he said. "It changes its purpose at about that time from a fairly standard henge to a temple of really European renown." */
“This theory, first proposed in a book about Stonehenge by Darvill himself is one of the two most widely accepted theories about the origins of Stonehenge now competing for support in the archaeological world. Now that researchers have come to believe the bluestones come from Wales, the question is why? If the bluestones were just ordinary rocks, surely prehistoric peoples would not have bothered to move them so far. */
One clue may lie in the ancient burial mounds that surround the site: Are they commemorations of the dead, or evidence of attempts to heal the living? "There's people in the landscape buried here who have come here perhaps like pilgrims, in order to benefit from the things here," Darvill said. "You can imagine a big temple like this is going to have shamans, it's going to have witch doctors, it's going to have all the sorts of people who in prehistoric terms would look after those who were ill."
“Many of the remains uncovered during previous excavations show signs of ailments and, in some cases, prehistoric surgery. "One, for example, has a trepanation taken out of the top of the skull, a circular piece of bone taken out to relieve pressure on the brain. You've got to be feeling pretty unwell to let somebody get a flint blade and cut the top of your head off," Darvill said.
Stonehenge May Have Begun as Been Burial Site for Stone Age Elite
Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield, who uncovered evidence of a village in Durrington Walls, a few kilometers away from the Stonehenge “believes that Stonehenge's true significance is in its relationship to a sister temple found at Durrington Walls. Together, he believes, the temples served as meccas for religious observance - Durrington Walls a site of feasts for the living, Stonehenge a series of statues of the dead.” [Source: Thea Chard, Los Angeles Times, Sunday, May 11, 2008]
Parker Pearson believes that Stonehenge may have served as a giant burial ground long before the first massive sarsen stone was put in place at Stonehenge. After examining 50,000 cremated bone fragments from 63 individuals buried at Stonehenge, Parker Pearson believes the earliest burials long predate the monument in its current form and provide the reason why is was built. Pearson’s team includes scientists from the universities of Southampton, Manchester, Bournemouth, Sheffield, London, York and Durham. Their work was revealed in a documentary on Channel 4 — “Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons”.[Source: Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, March 9, 2013]
“Maev Kennedy wrote in The Guardian: “The first bluestones, the smaller standing stones, were brought from Wales and placed as grave markers around 3,000 B.C., and it remained a giant circular graveyard for at least 200 years, with sporadic burials after that, he claims. It had been thought that almost all the Stonehenge burials, many originally excavated almost a century ago, but discarded as unimportant, were of adult men. However, new techniques have revealed for the first time that they include almost equal numbers of men and women, and children including a newborn baby. "At the moment the answer is no to extracting DNA, which might tell us more about these individuals and what the relationship was between them – but who knows in the future? Clearly these were special people in some way," Parker Pearson said. A mace head, a high-status object comparable to a sceptre, and a little bowl burnt on one side, which he believes may have held incense, suggest the dead could have been religious and political leaders and their immediate families.
“The latest theory is based on the first analysis of more than 50,000 fragments of cremated human remains from one of the Aubrey holes, a ring of pits from the earliest phase of the monument, which some have believed held wooden posts. Crushed chalk in the bottom of the pit was also revealed, suggesting it once supported the weight of one of the bluestones. Dating the bones has pushed back the date of earliest stone circle at the site from 2500 B.C. to 3000 B.C.
“Mike Pitts, an archaeologist, blogger and editor of the British Archaeology journal, who has excavated some of the cremated human remains from Stonehenge, says: "I have now come to believe that there are hundreds, maybe many times that, of burials at Stonehenge, and that some predate the earliest phase of the monument," Pitts said. "The whole history of the monument is inseparably linked to death and burial – but I believe that there are hundreds more burials to be found across the site, which will tell us more of the story."Almost all the prehistoric human remains come from the eastern side of the circle, and many had been excavated by earlier archaeologists including William Hawley in the 1920s, who regarding them as unimportant compared with the giant stones, reburied them jumbled together using one of the Aubrey holes as a convenient pit. "There must be more, in the western quadrant, or buried outside the enclosure ditch. A new excavation could clinch it," Pitts said.
Proof That Stonehenge Was a Full Circle Built on the Solstice Axis
Parker Pearson believes the excavations of manmade ditches along the ancient processional route to Stonehenge have confirmed a theory that Stonehenge was built along an ice age landform that happened to be on the solstice axis. Dalya Alberge wrote in The Guardian: “The Avenue was an earthwork route that extended 1.5 miles from the north-eastern entrance to Wiltshire's standing stones to the River Avon at West Amesbury. Following the closure of the A344 road, which cut across the route, archaeologists have been able to excavate there for the first time.[Source: Dalya Alberge, The Guardian, September 8, 2013]
Dr Heather Sebire, English Heritage's Stonehenge curator, said of the discovery of the manmade ditches: "The part of the Avenue that was cut through by the road has obviously been destroyed forever, but we were hopeful that archaeology below the road would survive. And here we have it: the missing piece in the jigsaw. It is very exciting to find a piece of physical evidence that officially makes the connection which we were hoping for."
“Just below the tarmac, Parker Pearson has found naturally occurring fissures that once lay between ridges against which prehistoric builders dug ditches to create the Avenue. The ridges were created by Ice Age meltwater that happen to point directly at the mid-winter sunset in one direction and the mid-summer sunrise in the other. Parker Pearson said: "It's hugely significant because it tells us a lot about why Stonehenge was located where it is and why they [prehistoric people] were so interested in the solstices. It's not to do with worshipping the sun, some kind of calendar or astronomical observatory; it's about how this place was special to prehistoric people. "This natural landform happens to be on the solstice axis, which brings heaven and earth into one. So the reason that Stonehenge is all about the solstices, we think, is because they actually saw this in the land." Parker Pearson said the findings backed theories that emerged in 2008 following exploration of a narrow trench across the Avenue. "This is the confirmation. It's being able to see the big picture." The excavation was conducted by Wessex Archaeology for English Heritage.
Archaeologists have also identified three holes where missing stones would have stood on the outer sarsen circle - evidence, it is believed, that the circle was indeed once complete. Surprisingly, even the most sophisticated surveys failed to spot them. Two members of staff noticed dry areas of grass, or parchmarks. Susan Greaney, an English Heritage historian, said: "The discovery … has certainly strengthened the case for it being a full circle."
Asked why no one noticed them until now, Parker Pearson said: "The problem is we've not had a decent dry summer in many years. Stonehenge is always regularly watered, and the only reason these have shown up is because – for some reason this year – their hose was too short … So we're very lucky."
Stonehenge: the Destination of a Ceremonial Procession?
The Avenue, 300 meters or so from Stonehenge, is an ancient route along which, according to one theory, the stones were first dragged from the River Avon. For centuries, this was the formal path to the great henge. Today the only hint of its existence are indentations in the tall grass. On walking on the Avenue, Ed Caesar wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “In the distance a string of barrows gleamed like opals. Gaffney’s idea was not to focus on Stonehenge itself, but on “processionality” within the whole landscape. He imagined people moving around the area like Roman Catholics processing through the Stations of the Cross. He recalled an Easter Friday ritual he saw in Croatia, in which a “bloke with a cross” led fellow barefoot celebrants on a miles-long trip. In Gaffney’s view, the building of the great stone circle was a “monumentalizing” of a similar, if heathen, procession. [Source: Ed Caesar, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2014 /+] /+\
“As we walked downhill through the fields, Gaffney stopped from time to time to point out the hillocks in which “the illustrious dead” were buried. He also noted how the Avenue was not a straight line between the Avon and Stonehenge, but rather a series of tacks that brought the visitor to the Stonehenge site in a “theatrical” way, along the line of sunrise on the summer solstice. /+\
“He thrust himself into the mind of a Bronze Age visitor to the site. “You will have seen nothing like it,” he said. “It would have been massively impressive.” Soon we descended into a valley called Stonehenge Bottom, only a hundred yards or so from the great stones. “They’re disappearing....Watch, just watch!” he said. ithin a few yards, the monument became invisible. When you picture Stonehenge in your mind’s eye, you imagine the concentric rings of vast stones standing in a desolate open landscape, visible for miles around. But now, here we were, a hundred yards away, and the thing had gone. /+\
“We stood in a field, watched by some lethargic cows, and savored the strangeness of the moment. Then, as we stepped uphill, Stonehenge re-emerged on the horizon. It happened fast. The lintels, then the great sarsens, then the smaller bluestones were suddenly before us. Gaffney’s voice lifted. He spoke about Jerusalem Syndrome: the feeling of intense emotion experienced by pilgrims on their first sighting of the Holy City. In the prehistoric world, there was no conception of God as he was understood by the later Abrahamic faiths. But, said Gaffney, as Stonehenge reappeared before us, “whatever the ancient version of Jerusalem Syndrome is, that’s what you’re feeling now.” /+\
Stonehenge Builders Are Thought To Have Been Herders, Not Farmers
The ancient builders of Stonehenge appear to have been animal herders rather than farmers based on archaeological finds that indicate they had unexpectedly meaty diet and mobile way of life. According to a new theory proposed by archaeobotanists Chris Stevens of Wessex Archaeology in Salisbury, England, and Dorian Fuller of University College London. small groups of roaming pastoralists collaborated to build massive, circular stone and wood structures, including Stonehenge, as a way of brining people together.
Bruce Bower wrote in sciencenews.org: “Although farming first reached the British Isles around 6,000 years ago, cultivation had given way to animal raising and herding by the time Stonehenge and other massive stone monuments began to dot the landscape, a new study finds. Shifts from farming to pastoralism, sometimes accompanied by construction of stone monuments, occurred around the same time in parts of Africa and Asia, the researchers say. [Source: Bruce Bower, sciencenews.org, September 6, 2012 ~|~]
““Part of the reason why pastoralists built monuments such as Stonehenge lies in the importance of periodic large gatherings for dispersed, mobile groups,” Fuller says. Collective meeting spots allowed different groups to arrange alliance-building marriages, crossbreed herds to boost the animals’ health and genetic diversity and hold ritual feasts. At these locations, large numbers of people could be mobilized for big construction projects, Fuller suggests. “A predominantly pastoralist economy in the third millennium B.C. accords well with available evidence and provides a suitable backdrop to the early development of Stonehenge,” says archaeologist Timothy Darvill of Bournemouth University in England. But he believes many large stones were brought to Stonehenge during a later upswing in cereal cultivation, as pastoralism receded in importance. ~|~
Food and Homes of the Stonehenge Builders
The Stonehenge builders are thought to have lived in low-rectangular, wattle-and-daub, reed-thatched houses, based on excavations by Parker Pearson of the dwellings believed to have been occupied by the Neolithic tribes who built the later stages of Stonehenge 4,500 years ago a few. These dwellings were found a few kilometers from Stonehenge, at the Neolithic village of Durrington Walls, which Parker Pearson believes was occupied by the monument builders and also the scene of wild mid-winter and mid-summer feasts that lasted for days. [Source:Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, April 16, 2013 ||=||]
Maev Kennedy wrote in The Guardian: “Post holes give good evidence for the timber hammered into the chalky clay which formed the frames of the houses, and also indicate the door openings. Scorched marks of hearths remain, but the building materials, probably willow woven between the posts and then made wind and watertight by plastering with clay, rotted away millennia ago – except for the base of one wall, believed to be the earliest example of chalk cob as a building material. The upper levels, and the shape of the roofs thatched with straw or sedge, are conjecture, so several different styles are being tried out, included thatching over steeper ridges and shallow curved hazel hoops.” ||=||
A team of archaeologists from the Universites of York and Sheffield obtained information on the food choices and eating habits of the people who lived at Durrington Walls. Through detailed analysis of pottery and animal bones the researchers uncovered evidence of organised feasts featuring barbeque-style roasting, and insights into how foods were distributed and shared across the site. According to the University of York: “Chemically analysing food residues remaining on several hundred fragments of pottery, the York team found differences in the way pots were used. Pots deposited in residential areas were found to be used for cooking animal products including pork, beef and dairy, whereas pottery from the ceremonial spaces was used predominantly for dairy. [Source: University of York, October 12, 2015 ^=^]
“Such spatial patterning could mean that milk, yoghurts and cheeses were perceived as fairly exclusive foods only consumed by a select few, or that milk products – today often regarded as a symbol of purity – were used in public ceremonies. Unusually, there was very little evidence of plant food preparation at any part of the site. The main evidence points to mass animal consumption, particularly of pigs. Further analysis of animal bones, conducted at the University of Sheffield, found that many pigs were killed before reaching their maximum weight. This is strong evidence of planned autumn and winter slaughtering and feasting-like consumption. ^=^
“The main methods of cooking meat are thought to be boiling and roasting in pots probably around indoor hearths, and larger barbeque-style roasting outdoors – the latter evidenced by distinctive burn patterns on animal bones. Bones from all parts of the animal skeleton were found, indicating that livestock was walked to the site rather than introduced as joints of meat. Isotopic analysis indicates that cattle originated from many different locations, some far away from the site. This is significant as it would require orchestration of a large number of volunteers likely drawn from far and wide. The observed patterns of feasting do not fit with a slave-based society where labour was forced and coerced, as some have suggested. ^=^
“Dr Oliver Craig, Reader in Archaeological Science at the University of York and lead author on the paper, said: “Evidence of food-sharing and activity-zoning at Durrington Walls shows a greater degree of culinary organisation than was expected for this period of British prehistory. The inhabitants and many visitors to this site possessed a shared understanding of how foods should be prepared, consumed and disposed. This, together with evidence of feasting, suggests Durrington Walls was a well-organised working community.” Professor Mike Parker Pearson, Professor at University College London and Director of the Feeding Stonehenge project who also led the excavations at Durrington Walls, said: “This new research has given us a fantastic insight into the organisation of large-scale feasting among the people who built Stonehenge. Animals were brought from all over Britain to be barbecued and cooked in open-air mass gatherings and also to be eaten in more privately organized meals within the many houses at Durrington Walls. The special placing of milk pots at the larger ceremonial buildings reveals that certain products had a ritual significance beyond that of nutrition alone. The sharing of food had religious as well as social connotations for promoting unity among Britain’s scattered farming communities in prehistory. ” ^=^
History of Archaeology at Stonehenge
In ancient times Stonehenge was referred to as the "Dance of the Giants". According to Arthurian legend it was originally built in Ireland by African giants and then transported to the Salisbury Plain by giants. Although it was built before Druids arrived, some called Stonehenge the Druid Circle.
According to UNESCO: “Since the 12th century when Stonehenge was considered one of the wonders of the world by the chroniclers Henry de Huntington and Geoffrey de Monmouth, the Stonehenge and Avebury Sites have excited curiosity and been the subject of study and speculation. Since early investigations by John Aubrey (1626-1697), Inigo Jones (1573-1652), and William Stukeley (1687-1765), they have had an unwavering influence on architects, archaeologists, artists and historians. The two parts of the World Heritage property provide an excellent opportunity for further research. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage sites website]
Ed Caesar wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “The site has long proved irresistible to diggers. In 1620, the Duke of Buckingham had his men excavate right in the center of the monument. Although they did not know it at the time, they dug on the site of a prehistoric pit. Buckingham’s men found skulls of cattle “and other beasts” and large quantities of “burnt coals or charcoals”—but no treasure, as they had hoped. [Source: Ed Caesar, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2014 /+]
“In the 19th century, “barrow-digging,” or the excavation of prehistoric monuments and burial hills, was a popular pastime among the landed gentry. In 1839, a naval officer named Captain Beamish dug out an estimated 400 cubic feet of soil from the northeast of the Altar Stone at Stonehenge. As Parker Pearson notes in his book Stonehenge, Beamish’s “big hole was probably the final blow for any prehistoric features...that once lay at Stonehenge’s center.” /+\
“Work at Stonehenge became less invasive. In 1952, Willard Libby—the American chemist and later a Nobel Prize winner—used his new radiocarbon dating technique on a piece of charcoal from a pit within Stonehenge to date the monument to 1848 B.C., give or take 275 years. That date has since been refined several times. The prevailing opinion is that the first stones were erected on the site around 2600 B.C. (although the building of Stonehenge was carried out over a millennium, and there were centuries of ritual activity at the site before the stones were in place).” /+\
Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project
Vince Gaffney is an archaeologist from Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England. Ed Caesar wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Gaffney’s latest research effort, the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, is a four-year collaboration between a British team and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Austria that has produced the first detailed underground survey of the area surrounding Stonehenge, totaling more than four square miles. The results are astonishing. [Source: Ed Caesar, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2014 /+]
“The Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project is different from everything that came before it. When Gaffney and his team started their work, they were less interested in theories than in data. To that end, they concentrated on taking what amounts to a three-dimensional and yards-deep photograph of the entire landscape. “The perceived wisdom was driven by the monuments we knew about,” says Gaffney. “We’ve put in the data between the monuments.” /+\
“Chris Gaffney, Vince’s younger, slighter and less voluble brother, was one of the instigators of this new approach. The duo’s grandfather was a metalwork teacher from Newcastle with an interest in archaeology, who took his clever grandchildren on trips to Hadrian’s Wall, the old barrier between the Roman Empire and the blasted north. Small wonder that Vince became an archaeologist and Chris a geophysicist, now at the University of Bradford. /+\
“The Gaffney brothers’ interest in new technologies that were becoming available to archaeologists led them to the first GPS-guided magnetometer systems. A magnetometer has sensors that allow a geophysicist to see evidence of historic building, and even ancient ditch-digging, beneath the soil by mapping variations in the earth’s magnetic field. The GPS-guided versions were able to pinpoint some of those discoveries to within one centimeter. The Gaffneys believed that Stonehenge scholarship needed a massive magnetometer- and radar-led survey of the whole site. “We just didn’t know if anything’s there,” Vince Gaffney recalled. “So we’re constructing various hypotheses on the basis of something we don’t know.” /+\
“Around the same time, an Austrian archaeologist named Wolfgang Neubauer, now of the Boltzmann Institute, was hoping to conduct large-scale projects all over Europe using tools including GPS magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar. Neubauer’s team had also developed software to process the 40 or 50 gigabytes of raw data that these instruments could create in a day. Suddenly, instead of waiting weeks or months to see what the machines had found, it was possible to cover several acres with magnetometers and radar in a day and to display that information on a screen almost instantaneously. /+\
“One of the areas Neubauer wanted to scan was Stonehenge, and in the spring of 2009 he contacted Vince Gaffney. A few months later, the Boltzmann Institute and the University of Birmingham—plus several other British and European universities, museums and companies that contributed expertise and resources—began their collaboration at Stonehenge. /+\
“Their first days on site, Gaffney recalled, were “like a geophysical circus has come to town.” Tractors pushed the ground-penetrating radars, which looked like high-powered lawn mowers. All-terrain vehicles dragged the magnetometer sensors on long strings. Delicate instruments covering hard, uneven ground kept mechanics and technicians busy. “I have seen one of our magnetometers shear clear apart in front of me,” said Gaffney. “It was back in service the next day.” In all, the fieldwork took about 120 days, spread over four years. /+\
Stuff Found Around Stonehenge
Ed Caesar wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Researchers have found buried evidence of more than 15 previously unknown or poorly understood late Neolithic monuments: henges, barrows, segmented ditches, pits. To Gaffney, these findings suggest a scale of activity around Stonehenge far beyond what was previously suspected. “There was sort of this idea that Stonehenge sat in the middle and around it was effectively an area where people were probably excluded,” Gaffney told me, “a ring of the dead around a special area—to which few people might ever have been admitted....Perhaps there were priests, big men, whatever they were, inside Stonehenge having processions up the Avenue, doing...something extremely mysterious. Of course that sort of analysis depends on not knowing what’s actually in the area around Stonehenge itself. It was terra incognita, really.” [Source: Ed Caesar, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2014 /+]
“Nobody has yet put a spade in the ground to verify the new findings, which were painstakingly gathered by geophysicists and others wielding magnetometers and ground-penetrating radars that scan the ground to detect structures and objects several yards below the surface. But Gaffney has no doubt of the work’s value. “This is among the most important landscapes, and probably the most studied landscape, in the world,” he says. “And the area has been absolutely transformed by this survey. Won’t be the same again.” /+\
“In a multimedia room at the University of Birmingham there was a vast touch screen, six feet by nine, on which a new map of the Stonehenge landscape appeared. Gaffney pointed out the key features. There was Stonehenge itself, marked by the familiar circles. To the north was the long, thin strip called the Stonehenge Cursus or the Greater Cursus, which was demarcated by ditches, and ran east to west for nearly two miles. (The Cursus was given its name by the antiquarian William Stukeley in the 18th century because it looked like an ancient Roman race course. Its construction predates the first building work at Stonehenge by several hundred years.) Gaffney also pointed out the Cursus Barrows—hillocks containing mass human graves—just south of the Cursus itself, and King Barrow Ridge to the east. /+\
“Scattered all over the map were blotches of black: features without names. These were new finds, including the more than 15 possible new or poorly understood Neolithic monuments. Gaffney emphasized possible, acknowledging that it will require digging—“the testimony of the spade”—to discover precisely what was there. /+\
“Standing in front of this constellation of evidence, he seemed unable to decide where to start, like a child at the Christmas tree. “These are little henge monuments,” he said, touching the screen to highlight a group of black smudges. “Nice little entrance there, and a ditch. These things we know nothing about.” /+\
Cursus Pits: Proof of Stonhenge’s Role in Processions?
Ed Caesar wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “He saved his greatest enthusiasm for the discoveries that had been made in the Cursus. This feature, said Gaffney, had always been thought of as a “bloody great barrier to the north of Stonehenge.” Nobody knew quite what it was for. Because the Cursus runs east to west, archaeologists have always believed that its presence owes something to the passage of the sun. The monument must be significant: It was dug in the fourth millennium B.C. using antler picks—hundreds of thousands of man-hours went into its construction. [Source: Ed Caesar, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2014 /+]
“The Hidden Landscapes Project’s instruments discovered several new clues. First of all, they found gaps in the ditch, in particular a very large break in the northern side, to allow people to enter and exit the Cursus. Now, instead of seeing the Cursus exclusively as a monument that encouraged movement along the path of the sun, east to west, Gaffney began to consider these gaps as “channels through the landscape” to guide the movement of people north to south. /+\
“A bigger discovery, Gaffney says, was a “bloody huge” pit about five yards in diameter at the eastern end of the Cursus. Today it lies buried at least three feet below the surface of the ground. Such a pit was much too large for a practical use—for instance, burying trash—because of the labor involved in digging it. In the archaeologists’ minds it could only have ritual implications, as “a marker of some kind,” Gaffney said. What’s more, if you drew a straight line between the pit and the heelstone at Stonehenge, it ran directly along the final section of the Avenue, on the path of the sunrise on the summer solstice. “We thought, That’s a bit of a coincidence!” Gaffney recalled. “That was the point at which we thought, What’s at the other end? And there’s another pit! Two pits, marking the midsummer sunrise and the midsummer solstice, set within a monument that’s meant to be something to do with the passage of the sun.” /+\
Gaffney showed how—on the longest days of the year—the pits formed a triangle with Stonehenge marking sunrise and sunset. “Nobody had ever seen these pits before,” he continued. “But they link the area of Stonehenge with the Cursus directly. Either these things have been put inside the Cursus to mark these points, or the Cursus has been wrapped around them.” /+\
“What was so interesting about the Cursus pits was that they told a story about the landscape. The “sunrise” pit was visible from Stonehenge, but the “sunset” pit was not—it was nestled behind a ridge, and could have been seen only if there had been fire and smoke coming from it. (At some point the pits will have to be excavated for evidence of such activity.) These discoveries fed into a larger understanding of Stonehenge as “diachronic”—operating in light and dark, sunrise and sunset, day and night. “The point I think we’re coming to,” said Gaffney, “is that increasingly we can see the area around Stonehenge as providing extensive evidence for complex liturgical movement—which we can now understand, largely because we know where things are.” /+\
“Parker Pearson, for his part, takes a cautious view of the new research. “Until you dig holes, you just don’t know what you’ve got,” he told me in his office at University College London. “What date it is, how significant it is. [There are] extraordinary new features coming up, and we’re thinking well, what are they?” To be sure, he said the data from the Hidden Landscapes Project “backs up the pattern we’ve already been seeing for some years. We have an excessive number of solstice-aligned monuments in that landscape. Nowhere in the rest of Europe comes even close.” He added, “This is fantastic stuff that’s been done, and it’s raised a whole series of new questions,” he said. “It’s going to take years.” /+\
Other Henges and Monoliths in Britain
A henge — of which Stonehenge is the most famous — refers to a particular type of earthwork of the Neolithic period, typically consisting of a roughly circular or oval-shaped bank with an internal ditch surrounding a central flat area of more than 20 meters ft) in diameter. Henges of various types are found throughout Britain and include the Standing Stones o' Stenness on the northern island of Orkney and the Maumbury Rings in southern England county of Dorset. There are also a number of similar sites in Ireland and Britanny, France other parts of Europe. [Source: Wikipedia. Raphael G. Satter, Associated Press, July 24, 2010]
S.E. Batt wrote for Listverse: Rudston Monolith, the highest standing stone in all of Britain, can be found in the village of Rudston in a church’s graveyard. It is an impressive 7.6 meters (25 ft) tall and was probably raised around 1600 B.C. There are theories that the stone named the village rather than the other way around. Given its age and prominence in the village, it’s only natural that legends of its origin are known among the locals. One legend makes a claim that the monolith was a spear crafted by the Devil as he made an attack against the church. Unfortunately for him, his aim was off-kilter and the spear ended up in the graveyard instead. Another legend claims that it was an attack by more protective forces—a spear of stone thrown at someone trying to deface the graves. As for archaeological evidence of its origins, Sir William Strickland dug around the site to try to uncover some more evidence. He discovered that the monolith may have half of its total length buried underground, bringing its height to double what we see. He also found a huge number of skulls, potentially hinting at a sacrificial or religious use. Despite this, there’s no defining evidence to tell us what went on at Rudston. [Source: S.E. Batt, Listverse July 1, 2016]
“Located in Cornwall, the Pipers and the Merry Maidens are separate megalith monuments. The Pipers consist of two standing stones, while a small distance away, the Merry Maidens form a stone circle. The circle is perfect, bar a deliberate entrance made on the east side which may hint at an astronomical purpose. The immediate area around these stone formations is littered with burial sites, which may hint that the stones had some relation with spiritual or burial procedures. Whether it served an astrological or burial purpose (or potentially both) is unknown. So why are two stone formations mentioned in one entry? When it comes to mentioning either, it’s hard not to mention the other due to the local legend that ties the two together. It states that two pipers were playing music for a dancing circle of maidens on a Sunday, an act that broke the Sabbath. Realizing what they did, the Pipers tried to run before anything bad could happen, but it was too late. They and the merry maidens were turned to stone for their transgressions.
“Grey Wethers in Dartmoor, England, is a rare case in megalith structure as it’s not one but two stone rings right next to each other. Both of the circles feature 30 stones, and both of them come close to 33 meters (108 ft) in diameter. Not only that but the circles stand nearly exactly north and south of one another—with only two degrees of difference from the exact orientation. Excavation of the circles revealed a thin layer of charcoal, which implies that the site saw a lot of fire. It’s clear that something was happening within these two circles. The real question is: What exactly was being performed in this strange setup of circles? It’s hard to tell, but several theories have emerged. One states that the circles were used to represent a spiritual gap, with one circle representing those still alive and the other representing those who have passed. Therefore, rituals performed in the “living circle” would symbolize the permeation of the spiritual wall between the living and the recently deceased. This would allow the living to send off, pay respects to, or perhaps try to communicate with those on the spirit side. Others put less emphasis on the spiritual, stating that the two circles represent a ritual that involves a gender divide, with one circle for men and the other for women. Still others believe that the circles could have been used as a meeting place for two neighboring tribes to discuss, trade, and feast.
“Like many mysterious constructions, Grey Wethers has its fair share of myths. “Wethers” is the old English name for “sheep,” and one such myth tells of a farmer who moved into Dartmoor, only to criticize the selection of sheep at the local market shortly after his arrival. After having several drinks at a local inn, the locals persuaded him that they had a fine selection of sheep for sale that would appeal to his obviously refined taste. They led him to the foggy field where the sheep were supposedly kept, and the farmer saw the silhouettes of the flock. He purchased the sheep then and there, only to awaken the next morning to discover that he had actually purchased the stones of Grey Wethers.”
Dartmoor: Toppled Megaliths and Death Rites
Nine megaliths in a remote part of Dartmoor, England, carbon-dated to around 3500 B.C., share features in common with Stonehenge and could be older than it. Both sites feature large standing stones that are aligned to mark the rising of the midsummer sun and the setting of the midwinter sun. [Source: Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News, April 9 2010 -]
The Dartmoor megaliths, described in as study in in the April 2010 issue of the journal Antiquity, Jennifer Viegas wrote in Discovery News, “are now lying flat, since the stones in a row fell, or were individually pushed, over. The toppling was fortuitous for historians, however, since peat above and the below the stones permitted the carbon dating, which is extremely rare for such monuments. -
“Tom Greeves, who discovered the Dartmoor stones at a site called Cut Hill and is co-author of the Antiquity paper, said it is “remarkable that a previously unrecorded stone row with very large stones has been noted for the first time on one of Dartmoor’s highest and remotest hills.” He added that to reach their location “requires a walk of about two hours from whatever direction.” A ditched barrow (a mound of earth or stones) exists very close to the Cut Hill stones, providing further evidence that burials and possible death-related rituals might have taken place there. -
“At least 81 stone monuments have now been discovered nearby, with Cut Hill’s being among the largest at over 705 feet in length. Both Greeves and Pitts said it’s possible some of the monuments served different functions, such as marking land use zones. The barrows, shared alignment, and other finds, however, indicate several standing stone monuments held ritualistic meaning. Pitts likened their construction to the building of cathedrals and pyramids, and to the carving of the giant heads on Easter Island. All, he said, are involved in the “defining of ritual spaces, giving ceremony and power distinctive physical presences, engaging large numbers by employing them in the construction processes, ceremonializing places beyond the mere moment of the rituals.” -
A Dartmoor stone monument, called Drizzlecombe could have been the site of death rituals. Archaeologist Mike Pitts, editor of the journal British Archaeology, told Discovery News that “huge quantities of barbecued juvenile pig bones” were found near Stonehenge, indicating that the animals were born in the spring and killed not far from the site “for pork feasting” in midwinter. [Source: Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News, April 9 2010
“The general feeling is that the sun was symbolizing or marking the occasion, rather than being the ritual focus itself, so it probably was not sun worship,” added Pitts, who is author of the book “Hengeworld” and is one of the leading experts on British megaliths. This feasting was not just a meaningless pork party, and might have been more akin to a post-funeral wake today. Pitts believes the “solstice alignment phenomenon perhaps has something to do with death.” As he explains the setting sun and shorter days of winter would have represented the passage into the darkness of the underworld, and the reverse as the days start to lengthen again. “At Stonehenge,” he continued, “the dark navy-colored bluestones may themselves represent ancestors or spirits from the underworld, while the big orangey-pink (before weathering) sarsens could reflect summer and light.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ancientfoods.wordpress.com ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018