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

History.com listed these interesting facts about Stonehenge:

screen-shot

“Among the remaining riddles about Stonehenge is how its builders, who had only primitive tools, managed to haul all the massive stones to the site. The sarsen stones, which each weigh an average of 25 tons, are thought to have been brought to the site from Marlborough Downs, about 20 miles to the north. The bluestones, which weigh between 2 tons to 5 tons, were transported to Stonehenge from the Preseli Hills area in West Wales, a distance of more than 150 miles. Most archaeologists believe that humans moved the bluestones over water and land to Stonehenge, although it’s also been suggested these stones could’ve been pushed to the site by glaciers.”

Stonehenge once was put up for auction.“…the passage of the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act in 1913 protected Stonehenge from being intentionally demolished. In 1915, Stonehenge went up on the auction block, where local resident Cecil Chubb successfully bid on the site, on a whim, for £6,600. Three years later, Chubb donated Stonehenge to the national government. In recognition of this deed, he was knighted by Prime Minister Lloyd George.”

Theories abound about Stonehenge’s purpose.“Stonehenge’s builders left no known written records, so scholars (and non-scholars) have long speculated about why it was constructed. Those theories include ‘(Stonehenge) was erected as a memorial to hundreds of Britons who were slayed by the Saxons’ or that ‘Stonehenge was built as a Druid temple.’”

Summer solstice gatherings were banned at Stonehenge.“First held in 1974 during the summer solstice, the Stonehenge Free Festival started as a counter-culture gathering that grew significantly in size over time. After tens of thousands of people showed up for the 1984 festival, authorities banned the event for the following year over concerns about the bad behavior of some of the visitors.” Summer Solstice Tour

Darwin studied worms there.“Darwin’s research was included in what would be his final book, ‘The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms,’ published in 1881.”

Join us on a guided Tour of Stonehenge and hear all the facts and figures.

The Stonehenge Tour Experts
Established 1995
http://www.StonehengeTours.com

This walking path links Britain’s two greatest prehistoric sites, Avebury and Stonehenge, and is as epic as the Inca Trail

The Great Stones Way is one of those ideas so obvious it seems amazing that no one has thought of it before: a 38-mile walking trail to link England’s two greatest prehistoric sites, Avebury and Stonehenge, crossing a landscape covered with Neolithic monuments.

great-stones-way-map

The Great Stones Way is a route using existing paths through the Wiltshire Downs, starting just south of Swindon and ending up at Old Sarum, on the outskirts of Salisbury. As long-distance trails go, this one is quite short, making it perfect for an energetic long weekend, or for more leisurely exploration over a week.

What’s the attraction?
Walking the Great Stones Way takes you on a journey through a landscape steeped in history, allowing you to discover the extraordinary sights our ancestors have left us. These include Iron Age hill forts with commanding views such as Barbury Castle and Old Sarum, while optional loops take you past the Neolithic henges and stone circles at the combined UNESCO World Heritage Site of Avebury and Stonehenge. There is also the option to finish the walk at Salisbury’s majestic medieval cathedral. The first part of the trail heads south through the rolling open chalk downland landscape of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“I can’t help thinking how much better it is to arrive at Stonehenge on foot. The comparison that comes to mind, and which I know well, is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The experience of trekking to both sites is immeasurably richer, not just because you’ve “earned it”, but because both sets of ruins are only properly understood in the context of the sacred landscape that surrounds them.”

Stonehenge Guided Tours is proud to offer a Contours walking holiday following the ‘Great Stones Way’ Please visit our Stonehenge tour website for full details

We also offer  daily Stonehenge guided walking tours throughout the year.

Stonehenge Guided Tours
The Stonrhenge Tour Experts
http://www.StonehengeTours.com

The days are getting shorter, the nights are drawing in, and the Winter Solstice is just a a week away.  It may feel like the days can’t get any shorter, but we still haven’t yet reached the winter solstice , which is the shortest day of the year.

henge-snow

The solstice marks the moment the sun shines at its most southern point, directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.

The world might look pretty grim now, but remember: as soon as the solstice has passed, the days will start getting longer again and you can start looking forward to Spring.

Here’s your guide to the darkest day of the year – and a few reasons to be cheerful about it.

What is the winter solstice?

The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year and the official beginning of winter.

The solstice itself is the moment the sun is shining farthest to the south, directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.

When is the Winter Solstice?

The date of the winter solstice is different every year, falling between December 20th and 23rd.

This year, the solstice will occur on Wednesday, December 21. The sun will rise in the UK at 08:04 GMT and set at 15:54 GMT, giving just 7 hours and 49 minutes of daylight.

Traditions and rituals

The winter solstice is a major pagan festival, with rituals of rebirth having been celebrated for thousands of years.

Chief Druid leads the Winter Solstice service at Stonehenge

Chief Druid leads the Winter Solstice service at Stonehenge (Photo: PA)

Every year revellers gather at Stonehenge to watch the sunrise on the shortest day.

Many of the traditions we now think of as being part of Christmas – including Yule logs, mistletoe and Christmas trees – have their roots in the pagan celebrations of winter solstice.

Wait, the Christmas tree was originally a winter solstice tree?

Sort of. The Druids – the priests of the ancient Celts – used evergreen trees , holly and mistletoe as symbols of everlasting life during winter solstice rituals.

Cutting them down and putting them in their homes would have been too destructive to nature.

But when Saint Boniface, also known as Winfrith of Crediton, found a group of pagans worshipping an oak tree in 8th Century Germany, he cut the tree down.

Myth has it the converted pagans in the region returned the following year to decorate the fir tree.

Will the days start getting longer again?

Yes. After the solstice, the days will gradually get longer until the summer solstice on Wednesday, 21 June 2017.
Article by By  (Source The Mirror)

Experience sunrise at Stonehenge on the Winter Solstice with our exclusive guided tour from London or Bath.

Stonehenge Guided Tours
The Stonehenge Experts
http://www.StonehengeTours.com

 

 

 

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

 

Stonehenge Private Access Visit or Regular Tourist Visit During Normal Hours?

For those of you who have not visited Stonehenge before, we should mention that the

crowds

Regular Crowded Stonehenge visit

monument is roped off. Visitors observe the stones from a distance and are not permitted within the inner circle and for most tourists this is perfectly adequate. Since the new English Heritage visitor centre opened in 2013 the monument can often see over 1000 people per hour circling the Stone Circle at distances up to 100 meters away.

Walk Among The Stones At Stonehenge Without The Crowds

For the more discerning traveller and those who are really, really interested in Stonehenge it is possible to go beyond the rope fence and walk among the stones with just a handful of people. These visits are called Special Access visits and take place outside public opening hours and are very early in the morning or late in the evening, often at sunset or sunrise. This is the only time you will be able to walk amongst the stones at Stonehenge.  There are periods, noticeably the months of October and November where no Special Access slots are made available at all due to conservation reasons. The days around the summer solstice at the end of June are also blacked out.

Organised Guided Stonehenge Special Access Tours
We have arranged with English Heritage for you to experience a unique guided visit to this ancient sacred site – beyond the fences and after the crowds have gone home. Walk amongst the stones and experience the magical atmosphere within the inner circle. We are the early pioneers of this magical experience and hope you will join one of our exclusive scheduled small group Stonehenge special  access tours or organise a custom VIP private viewing tour, ideal for individuals, families or small groups.

Our tour guides are Stonehenge experts and will bring to life its many myths, legends and mysteries and share all the latest theories and archaeological discoveries,  a truly magical experience.  We have a close relationship with Stonehenge ticketing and all approved tour operators and can often arrange these access visits, even at sunset or sunrise when others can’t. A truly magical experience!

Let us Arrange a Special Access Visit for You
Simply contact us with your preferred date, the number of people travelling and if you prefer sunrise or sunset access inside the Stones.  We will then promptly email your best touring options.  We’ll make sure that you get the very best out of this historic and mysterious Stone Circle!
Please follow us on Twitter or Facebook for the latest updates  and view our pics and videos on Instagram and YouTube

The Stonehenge Experts
Email:
experts@StonehengeTours.com
Operating Stonehenge Guided Tours since 1995
http://www.StonehengeTours.com

AN archaeological study claims to shed light on the few remaining mysteries which still surround Stonehenge.

sun-henge

Unhenged… early excavations at Stonehenge were deemed unimportant at the time, but a new study has shed light on the site C -Getty

For years, the rock monoliths at the popular tourist site in Wiltshire have been a source of great speculation, with nobody certain as to why or how the prehistoric monument was built.

The most prominent theory is that the site, which was constructed between 3000 BC and 2000 BC, served as an ancient burial ground.

This theory gained traction after the remains of an estimated 59 individuals were found in the area in the 1920s, but the bones uncovered then were deemed unimportant at the time and were never properly analysed.

But now archaeologists have been able to successfully carbon date the remains of at least 27 adults at the site, reinforcing the theory that Stonehenge was built to be a final resting place for our ancient ancestors.

Fresh analysis of these bones has revealed that they were buried over a 500 year period between 3,100BC and 2,600BC.

Full story in The Sun 

Join the experts on a Stonehenge guided tour and learn more about this mysterious monument and all the latest theories.

Stonehenge Guided Tours
http://www.StonehengeTours.com