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)

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Excavation of two quarries in Wales by a UCL-led team of archaeologists and geologists has confirmed they are sources of Stonehenge’s ‘bluestones’– and shed light on how they were quarried and transported.

New research by the team published this week detail evidence of prehistoric quarrying in the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, helping to answer long-standing questions about why, when and how Stonehenge was built.

The team of scientists includes researchers from UCL, University of Manchester, Bournemouth University, University of Southampton, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, and Dyfed Archaeological Trust.

The very large standing stones at Stonehenge are of ‘sarsen’, a local sandstone, but the smaller ones, known as ‘bluestones’, come from the Preseli hills in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Geologists have known since the 1920s that the bluestones were brought to Stonehenge from somewhere in the Preseli Hills, but only now has there been collaboration with archaeologists to locate and excavate the actual quarries from which they came.

Director of the project, Professor Mike Parker Pearson (UCL Institute of Archaeology), said: “This has been a wonderful opportunity for geologists and archaeologists to work together. The geologists have been able to lead us to the actual outcrops where Stonehenge’s stones were extracted.”

The Stonehenge bluestones are of volcanic and igneous rocks, the most common of which are called dolerite and rhyolite. Dr Richard Bevins (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales) and Dr Rob Ixer (UCL and University of Leicester) have identified the outcrop of Carn Goedog as the main source of Stonehenge’s ‘spotted dolerite’ bluestones and the outcrop of Craig Rhos-y-felin as a source for one of the ‘rhyolite’ bluestones. The research published today details excavations at Craig Rhos-y-felin specifically.

Excavataions at Craig Rhos-y-felin

The special formation of the rock, which forms natural pillars at these outcrops, allowed the prehistoric quarry-workers to detach each megalith (standing stone) with a minimum of effort. “They only had to insert wooden wedges into the cracks between the pillars and then let the Welsh rain do the rest by swelling the wood to ease each pillar off the rock face” said Dr Josh Pollard (University of Southampton). “The quarry-workers then lowered the thin pillars onto platforms of earth and stone, a sort of ‘loading bay’ from where the huge stones could be dragged away along trackways leading out of each quarry.”

Professor Colin Richards (University of Manchester), an expert in Neolithic quarries, said: “The two outcrops are really impressive – they may well have had special significance for prehistoric people. When we saw them for the first time, we knew immediately that we had found the source.”

Radiocarbon-dating of burnt hazelnuts and charcoal from the quarry-workers’ camp fires reveals that there were several occurrences of megalith-quarrying at these outcrops. Stonehenge was built during the Neolithic period, between 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. Both of the quarries in Preseli were exploited in the Neolithic, and Craig Rhos-y-felin was also quarried in the Bronze Age, around 4,000 years ago.

“We have dates of around 3400 BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BC” said Professor Parker Pearson. “It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view.  It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire.”

Excavations at Carn-Goedog

Professor Kate Welham (Bournemouth University) thinks that the ruins of any dismantled monument are likely to lie somewhere between the two megalith quarries. She said: “We’ve been conducting geophysical surveys, trial excavations and aerial photographic analysis throughout the area and we think we have the most likely spot. The results are very promising – we may find something big in 2016.”

The megalith quarries are on the north side of the Preseli hills, and this location undermines previous theories about how the bluestones were transported from Wales to Stonehenge.  Previous writers have often suggested that bluestones were taken southwards from the hills to Milford Haven and then floated on boats or rafts, but this now seems unlikely.

“The only logical direction for the bluestones to go was to the north then either by sea around St David’s Head or eastwards overland through the valleys along the route that is now the A40” said Professor Parker Pearson. “Personally I think that the overland route is more likely. Each of the 80 monoliths weighed less than 2 tons, so teams of people or oxen could have managed this. We know from examples in India and elsewhere in Asia that single stones this size can even be carried on wooden lattices by groups of 60 – they didn’t even have to drag them if they didn’t want to.”

Phil Bennett, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Culture and Heritage Manager, said: “This project is making a wonderful contribution to our knowledge of the National Park’s importance in prehistory.”

The new discoveries may also help to understand why Stonehenge was built. Parker Pearson and his team believe that the bluestones were erected at Stonehenge around 2900 BC, long before the giant sarsens were put up around 2500 BC.

“Stonehenge was a Welsh monument from its very beginning. If we can find the original monument in Wales from which it was built, we will finally be able to solve the mystery of why Stonehenge was built and why some of its stones were brought so far”, said Professor Parker Pearson.

The project’s results are published this week in British Archaeology magazine.  It also features in our new book Stonehenge: making sense of a prehistoric mystery available from Oxbow Books. Further excavations are planned for 2016.

The new Stonehenge book's cover

Council for British Archaeology

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‘THE STONE MONUMENT IS ICONIC, BUT IT’S ONLY A LITTLE PART OF THE WHOLE THING’

The New York Times has an interesting roundup of recent discoveries made at and around Stonehenge that could shed new light on the famous monument and the people who built it nearly 5,000 years ago. Last month, archaeologists dug up an ancient house at an area called Blick Mead about a mile from Stonehenge. Built around 4300 BC, they believe the house is one of the oldest in England. In September, a team of archaeologists using radar imaging found what they believe are 90 standing stones buried at another nearby site called Durrington Walls. Teams also think they’ve found where Stonehenge’s builders lived around 2600 BC. Fatty acids still inside ancient pots show the people of the time had a “very meat-heavy diet” of grilled and boiled pork and beef with some apples, berries, and hazelnuts.

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But despite the recent discoveries, the major question remains: Why was Stonehenge built? Some archaeologists believe it was a “land of the dead” used to honor the builders’ ancestors, the Times reports. Others believe it was the opposite: an area renowned for its life-giving healing properties. A team used an isotope contained in ancient cattle teeth to deduce people came to the area around Stonehenge from far and wide. Archaeologists are also left wondering if Stonehenge was built atop a site that was already revered by ancient peoples. For example, charcoal and bones found in nearby pits left by large posts—possibly totem poles—date back to nearly 8000 BC. “The stone monument is iconic,” one archaeologist says. “But it’s only a little part of the whole thing.” Read the full story here.


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