Stonehenge – a name that evokes a great many emotions in a great many people. For some it is a place of pilgrimage, a place to connect with the ancestors and for others it is seen as a tourist trap or something to tick off the bucket list. For centuries it has captured our imagination; never has a heritage site been so controversial – something which continues to this day. In this post it is not my intention to give a full on thesis about Stonehenge, there are plenty of books/websites who do this already. Instead it is simply an overview of what is currently understood about the site, its surrounding landscape and my own personal thoughts.

stones_7543

Stonehenge is situated on the Salisbury Plains, to the south is the busy A303, a main road between the south-west and London, and for many years the equally busy A344 ran alongside the site. This latter road was removed sometime ago to improve the visitors experience. Today there are ongoing discussions regarding the upgrading of the A303 and a proposed tunnel. It is a highly emotive subject, on one hand I understand the need to improve the road situation (ask anyone who is stuck in a traffic jam on the A303) but as an archaeologist I am also aware of the sensitive nature of the surrounding heritage landscape (and yes I am on the fence). Mike Pitts in his recent post discusses the pros and cons for those of you who are interested.

For the visitor today the focus is on the large stone circle with its trilithons, they marvel at how it could have been built by ‘primitive man’ often leading to suggestions of alien intervention and lost technologies.  But such thoughts only serve to belittle our ancestors and our past.  Others may ask why did our ancestors build Stonehenge?  Often the answers are unimaginative and simple – sun-worship; display of power; ancient computer; druid temple – once more when we look only for one answer to a what is obviously a complicated site of great longevity we belittle their achievements.  Instead if Stonehenge was understood in terms of the wider landscape and as a site whose history spanned several millenia we might come to some small understanding of how and why.

In today’s world of instant gratification where everything has a beginning and an end,  it is hard to imagine beginning a project knowing you might not see it finished but this was a reality for the builders of Stonehenge.  It has lead some to suggest that it was not the end product which was important but the doing, the act of building which was in fact the purpose.  Suggesting a cyclical thought pattern which can be seen in other aspects of prehistoric life – round houses, stone circles, round barrows.  in addition, time itself was most likely viewed in cycles, the phases of the moon and the movement of the seasons are all cyclical events which would have been of great importance to prehistoric people trying to make sense of their world.

“So was Stonehenge ever ‘finished’?  The answer to that has to be no, because completion was never the intention of the people who created it.” (Pryor F. 2016 ‘Stonehenge: The Story of a Sacred Landscape).

It is well known that Stonehenge itself had many incarnations, perhaps meaning new and different things with each alteration or rebuild.  To understand Stonehenge it is important to consider it in the wider context of the surrounding landscape (there are literally hundreds of prehistoric monuments around it) in all the different phases.

The Mesolithic Story

The story of the Stonehenge landscape begins back in the Mesolithic, ongoing recent excavations at Blickmead are providing archaeologists with tantalising clues as to why this area was important to our ancestors.  The site is situated near a spring by the River Avon, excavations began in 2005 and almost immediately were fruitful.  Basically, the deposits consisted of an array of Mesolithic settlement debris, mostly flint fragments (tens of thousands) but also a great number of animal bones.  Interestingly, the site also yielded the largest collection of auroch bones ever found on a Mesolithic site in Britain so far.  Other animals which were hunted and consumed included red deer, wild boar and salmon – this has led archaeologists to suggest that feasting was a common occurence around the spring.  The spring itself is quite unusual as it has the tendency to stain flints and other materials a bright magenta pink – the importance of springs in later prehistory is well attested to.

In 1966 row of four large pit like features were found during upgrades to the old carpark close by Stonehenge.  When excavated one was found to be a the root-hole of a tree and the other three were holes dugs to hold large poles.   Examination of the material from these features gave a date range from between 8500 and 7000BC.  The posts would have been approximately 75cm in diameter and were from pine trees.  Later in 1988 another post-hole was discovered south and east of the original pits but it was contemporary.

So here we have a landscape already well populated by hunter-gatherer communities who revered certain natural features long before Stonehenge makes an appearance.  A landscape which had meaning to the people who inhabit it; who had traditions and memories of place.

At around 3500BC (Neolithic) with the arrival of farming these communities and their traditions had evolved and more permenant features began to make an appearance on the landscape.   Long barrows such as those at East and West Kennet or Winterbourne Stoke were the first to appear and by 3400BC the Stonehenge Cursus and Lesser Cursus was under construction.

3000BC – The first official phase of construction

In many parts of Britian at this time a new type of monument was being constructed, these were earthwork enclosures which are referred to as henges.  They consist of irregular cut ditches encircling a defined area with corresponding banks.  Stonehenge’s earliest phase was one such earthwork.  Here there were two entrances one faced north-east and the other faced south.  The north-easterly entrance remained in use for much of the sites lifetime and appears to be important to its function.  The entrance is aligned along a line of natural gullies which face towards the midsummer sunrise in one direction and the midwinter sunset in the other.

These natural gullies would have been visible to the people of the Mesolithic and may have been why the large pine posts were erected where they were – the midsummer and midwinter solstices were just as important then as they were to the later prehistoric communities.

Inside the earthwork enclosure around the inner edge of the bank were fifty-six regularly spaced pits – these are now known as the Aubrey Holes.  There is some discussion as to what they were or what they contained – small stone uprights or wooden posts?  However, what is known is that eventually they did contain cremated human remains.  Similar deposits have been found in the partly filled ditch and cut into the bank suggesting that at this stage in its history Stonehenge was used as a cemetary, among other things.
Read the full story (article source) here: Toni-maree Rowe – Write

Further Reading

Pryor F (2016) Stonehenge: The Story of a Sacred Landscape

Parker-Pearson M  et al (2015) Stonehenge: Making Sense of Prehistoric Mystery

Parker Pearson M (2013) Stonehenge: Exploring the Greatest Stone Age Mystery

Bowden M et al (2015) The Stonehenge Landscape: Analysing the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.

Join s on a Stonehenge guided tour and hear all the latest theories.
Stonehenge Guided Tours (est. 1995)
http://www.StonehengeTours.com
The Stonehenge Experts

Advertisements

A major new archaeological find of causewayed enclosures and artifacts near Britain’s famous Stonehenge site is about to “rewrite” the history of the area and of northwestern Europe’s early inhabited history.

newobserver

Built 5,650 years ago—more than 1,000 years before Stonehenge—one of the enclosures appears to have been a major ceremonial gathering place.

The major enclosure’s precise original function remains a mystery, but the scant available evidence suggests that it was used for a mixture of ceremonial, religious, political, and mortuary roles.

According to a press release issued by a construction consultancy company involved with an unrelated new building project at the site, archaeologists have “discovered important new sites that rewrite the Stonehenge landscape” and which “predate the construction of Stonehenge itself.”

The remains, found at Larkhill and Bulford, were unearthed during excavations ahead of the construction of new British Army family accommodation.

About 70 enclosures of the type found are known across England and Europe, the press release continued.

The structure is one of the “earliest built structures in the British landscape,” and was used “for temporary settlement, as ceremonial gathering places, to manage and exchange animals, including the first domesticated cattle and sheep and for ritual activity.”

The Larkhill enclosure has produced freshly broken pottery, dumps of worked flint and even a large stone saddle quern used to turn grain into flour. The Neolithic period saw the first use of domesticated crops and this find provides evidence of this.

The Greater Cursus, an earthwork nearly 1.8 miles in length, is the longest structure. It connects and divides parts of the landscape, and separates the Larkhill causewayed enclosure from the place that became Stonehenge.

“The people who built the causewayed enclosure are the ancestors of the builders of Stonehenge and were shaping the landscape into which the stone circle was placed,” the press release continued.

“Their work shows that this was a special landscape even before Stonehenge was constructed. People were already living and working within what we now call the Stonehenge landscape and they were building the structures that would culminate in the Stonehenge complex of stones and earthworks.

Read the full story in the New Observer Online

Stonehenge Guided Tours offer daily tours of Stonehenge and custom private guided tours including Stonehenge and the surrounding landscape.  Stonehenge private access tours allow you to go onside the inner circle before or after the site is officially open. Join the Stonehenge experts and here all the many new theories.

Stonehenge Guided Tours
Operating Stonehenge Tours Since 1990
www.StonehengeTours.com

 

A NEW study of prehistoric bones discovered at Stonehenge has found around half actually belonged to women.

In 2008, archaeologists first explored the site in Wiltshire examining the cremated remains of some 200 adults.

In 2008, archaeologists first explored the site in Wiltshire examining the cremated remains of some 200 adults.

The remains of 14 women found at the iconic prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, along with other findings, are important because it supports the theory that Stonehenge functioned, at least for part of its long history, as a cremation cemetery for leaders and other noteworthy individuals. It also means the women are believed to have been of high status and importance.

Researchers said their findings showed a “surprising degree of gender equality” despite artists portraying prehistoric man as in charge of the site “with barely a woman in sight”.

The findings, which are the results of the dig which took place in 2008, have been reported in British Archaeology magazine.

“In almost every depiction of Stonehenge by artists and TV re-enactors we see lots of men, a man in charge, and few or no women,” archaeologist Mike Pitts, who is the editor of British Archaeology and the author of the book Hengeworld, told Discovery News.

“The archaeology now shows that as far as the burials go, women were as prominent there as men. This contrasts with the earlier burial mounds, where men seem to be more prominent.”

Christie Willis of the University College London Institute of Archaeology worked on the project, sorting through some 45kg of bone fragments.

Her task was to identify which part of the skeleton each fragment came from and to then establish the age and sex of the remains. She identified 14 females and nine males — some of them children.

Ms Willis said the samples had originally been place in a series of Aubrey Holes around the periphery of the site, which were originally excavated in the 1920s by William Hawley.

“These were dug up and reburied in Aubrey Hole seven with the hope that one day there would be a breakthrough to allow them to be analysed.

“Because of this the fragments have become co-mingled — or mixed up — which is why the work has taken so long.”

The fragments were also sent to universities in Oxford and Glasgow to be radiocarbon-dated. (news.com.au)

Join us on a Stonehenge Guided Tour with a local expert and here all about the many new theories.

Stonehenge Guided Tours
http://www.StonehengeTours.com
The Stonehenge Experts (Est 1995)

What we learned about Stonehenge this week is that it wasn’t built for summer celebrations.

Operation Stonehenge: a BBC programme investigated the prehistoric monument

Stonehenge Photo: Alamy

First reports of the discovery of a mass of huge stones buried near Stonehenge, appearing to be the remains of another ceremonial structure four times larger, included the tantalising suggestion that it was aligned to the position of the sun on the shortest day of the year. This echoes a remarkable discovery published 20 years ago by the late Professor John North, an expert on the history of human cosmology.

In his book Stonehenge: Neolithic Man and the Cosmos, North showed by meticulous calculation how the alignment of Stonehenge was not, as was long supposed, to the Midsummer sunrise, but to its setting on the day of the Winter Solstice: in other words, to that very moment when the old year dies before nature begins its return to new life. For our Neolithic ancestors, it was thus a midwinter festival equivalent to our Christmas or the Roman Saturnalia.

We must now await further word from the academic discoverers of this new “Super-henge” on how they think its builders 4,500 years ago, like those of Stonehenge, directed it towards the position of the sun at just the moment when the year dies to be reborn. It was this which, when I first wrote about it on December 24 2006, inspired one of my sub-editors to the memorable headline “Have yourself a Megalithic Christmas”.

By  (Source – Telegraph)

Please view our Stonehenge Winter Solstice and Christmas Tours.

Stonehenge Guided Tours

A line of huge megaliths that once acted as a site for rituals carried out during the building of Stonehenge has been discovered. Here is how to visit the site

Why go

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a massive stone monument buried under the bank of a stone-age enclosure known as Durrington Walls, just two miles from Stonehenge.

A new line of stones has been found under Durrington Walls super-henge

A new line of stones has been found under Durrington Walls super-henge

Using powerful ground-penetrating radar, investigators from Birmingham and Bradford universities, alongside an international team of experts, have uncovered a 330m-long line of more than 50 massive stones, buried under part of the bank of Britain’s largest pre-historic henge.

Professor Vincent Gaffney, an archaeologist on the project, said that the discovery has significant implications for our understanding of Stonehenge and its landscape setting.

“Not only does this new evidence demonstrate a completely unexpected phase of monumental architecture at one of the greatest ceremonial sites in prehistoric Europe, the new stone row could well be contemporary with the famous Stonehenge sarsen circle or even earlier,” he said.

What is it

Gaffney said that the stones are thought to have been erected more than 4,500 years ago to form a dramatic ritual arena. The monuments were grand, built to give the impression of authority to the living and the dead.

However, as the megaliths are buried underground, visitors to the area will not be able to see them for themselves.

Yet you can still get a great sense of their majesty if you use a bit of imagination, and Durrington Walls, the village where Stonehenge’s builders lived, is itself an interesting site.

The henge at Durrington Walls has long mystified archaeologists because one side is straight while the rest of it is curved. It surrounds several smaller enclosures and timber circles, and is connected to a newly excavated later Neolithic settlement. Thousands of people travelled great distances to gather here and feast on roast pork and apples in midwinter. The area outside the ditch and bank was once a settlement, possibly housing hundreds of homes, making Durrington Walls the biggest village in north-west Europe at the time.

Durrington
The earliest phase of Durrington Walls with its line of megaliths

How to see the site on a guided walk

The National Trust is hosting a Discover Durrington Walls event on October 10. On this 3-mile walk, you’ll explore the secrets of Durrington Walls – once home to the builders of Stonehenge – and discover 6,000 years of hidden history with National Trust’s landscape guides.

To book: Call the estate office on 01980 664780 or email stonehenge@nationaltrust.org.uk

How to see the site on an independent walk

Download a National Trust map for one of the following routes and explore for yourself.

1. Ramble around on a Durrington Walls and Landscape walk and explore the connection between two of the most important henge enclosures in the country in a less-known part of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. To view the route: nationaltrust.org.uk/wra-1356324449264/view-page/item463554/

2. Go on a Durrington Walls to Stonehenge walk and discover the landscape in its full glory from the Bronze Age barrow First World War military railway track, as well as its diverse wildlife and plants. To view the route: nationaltrust.org.uk/stonehenge-landscape/things-to-see-and-do/view-page/item937063/

Join a guided tour from London or Salisbury

Stonehenge Guided Tours operate daily tours of Stonehenge and many of their small group tours explore the greater landscape including Woodhenge and Durrington Walls.  Exclusive private guided tours can be arranged for individuals, families and small groups with local experts.  They also specialise in Stonehenge special access tours.  To view their tours: http://www.StonehengeTours.com

Local facilities

– Picnic area (not NT) and information panel at Woodhenge car park

– WCs

– Outdoor café

– Picnic area (not NT) at Stonehenge car park, 0.75 miles from this walking route.

How to get there

Bike: National Cycle Network route 45 runs south-east of the property. See sustrans.org.uk

Bus: Wilts & Dorset 5 or 6, between Salisbury, Pewsey, Marlborough and Swindon. Service 16 from Amesbury, request stop at Woodhenge

Rail: Salisbury station, 9 miles from Woodhenge car park

Road: Woodhenge car park is 1¾ miles north of Amesbury, follow signs from A345

This article was written by Trisha Andres (Telegraph Mail)

Stonehenge Guided Tours
The Stonehenge Experts
Touring Stonehenge since 1995