New ‘Feeding Stonehenge’ project to run from 2010 to 2012

7 01 2010


Professor Mike Parker Pearson and his team have been awarded a further £800,000 grant to discover exactly how the people who built Stonehenge lived, what they ate and where they came from.

The research team from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield will study how at the time of the Winter Solstice, Stone Age people would have needed to have brought livestock with them to Stonehenge to feed on. Initial research suggests the animals were brought considerable distances to this ceremonial site at this time of year.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of their annual large grants research scheme, this new project, entitled `Feeding Stonehenge´, will allow the team to answer some key questions about Stonehenge over the next three years.

The team will develop their research further by analysing the bones of the cows slaughtered in the area 4,500 years ago to calculate where the cattle had been moved from to give a better guide of where the people had travelled from to visit the site. In addition, the archaeologists will aim to gain a better understanding of the dressing of the sarsen stones, study how the public and private spaces at Durrington Walls differ from each other and establish in which season animals were culled at Stonehenge and Durrington Walls.

The grant forms one of 34 major research grants made by the AHRC in 2009 to projects that will help further our understanding of human culture and creativity. It was awarded following the already revolutionary Stonehenge Riverside project, also led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson, which strengthened the idea that nearby Durrington Walls was part of the Stonehenge complex. The large collection of cattle jaws collected during the last few years of excavations will now undergo strontium and sulphur isotope analysis to establish where they came from.

The newest project will now see the archaeologists study the material resources required for building Stonehenge and the other henge complexes of Wessex. In addition, the team will try and ascertain whether Britain´s Copper Age started 50 years earlier than first thought. Circumstantial evidence points to copper tools being in use at Durrington Walls earlier than previously calculated. Cut-marks on animal bones should reveal whether they were made by copper daggers as opposed to flint tools.

Professor Mike Parker Pearson from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffied, said: “The Stonehenge Riverside Project’s results were well beyond anyone’s expectations – archaeologists and general public alike. It has allowed us to completely re-write the story of Stonehenge. One of the unforseen outcomes is the vast quantity of new material – flint tools, animal bones, pottery, plant remains, survey data, and chemical samples – which now needs analysing.

“The new grant from the AHRC for the ‘Feeding Stonehenge’ project allows us to get the maximum information out of this unexpected wealth of remains. We are going to know so much about the lives of the people who built Stonehenge – how they lived, what they ate, where they came from. The AHRC’s grants have been crucial for helping us find out more about one of the world’s most important prehistoric monuments. They have enabled the project to develop in directions which could not possibly be predicted when we started digging.”

In early September the AHRC spent a day visiting the 2009 excavation near Stonehenge and interviewing the research team. A short video podcast is now online that offers viewers an insight in to the scale of the excavations undertaken during 2009.





Winter solstice attracts more than just druids to Stonehenge

6 01 2010







Popularity of pagan festival grows as intrigued mums and dads bring their kids to winter solstice

Of course, the usual characters were there: Taloch in an antler head-dress, the archdruid Rollo Maughfling splendid in his trademark white robes and a flat cap and Arthur Pendragon, who claims to be the current incarnation of the once, and future, king.

But through the icy mist and the smoke of camp fires a different sort of crowd, wearing anoraks and woolly hats rather than ceremonial capes, also emerged to celebrate the winter solstice at Stonehenge.

Regulars have noticed that over the last few years the popularity of the winter solstice, a much quieter and gentler affair than the summer version, has grown.

As always, the pagans turn up in force to chant and dance and welcome the sun but they are being joined by people of different or no faiths who seem to be there to take a quick break from the pressures of the UK’s ever more commercial take on Christmas.

Spiro Marcetic had travelled to the Wiltshire monument from Birmingham with his wife, Alison, and their children – Evie, four, and Hector, two – to get away from it all for a few days. They stayed in a Travelodge down the road (not very druidic) and pushed the children under the subway and up to the stones in a double-buggy.

“We’re here for an anti-religious reason, if any,” said Alison. “Pagans seem to have more fun so we’d thought we’d give it a go. We’ll be celebrating Christmas but this is about showing the children that this season isn’t just about getting presents. What goes on here is more basic, more tangible.”

Jill and her 10-year-old daughter Jasmine are Stonehenge regulars. But this year they brought along Jasmine’s classmate, Ifu, and her father, Ken, who are not pagans, to show them what it was all about.

Ken said: “I think we found it very spiritual, very moving. It’s a great experience.”

Jill added: “For us this time of year is about starting to come out of the dark. It’s a very positive time of year. I think people who aren’t pagans come here to enjoy that feeling too.”

But as a mother of five and grandmother of four, Jill admits she feels compelled to celebrate Christmas, too. “I don’t have much choice but we do it as modestly as possible.”

A couple of thousand people turned out for the winter solstice last year.

There were around 600 , the numbers probably down because it was fiercely cold and the roads around Stonehenge were treacherous.

Around 300 others had turned up yesterday, believing that English Heritage was going to allow open access to the site – a chance to stray from the paths, spend time in the centre of the circle and actually touch the huge hunks of stone – on December 21.

But the celebration does not always fall on the same date as the solstice because the modern year does not correspond precisely to the solar one. English Heritage took pity and allowed them in anyway.

The winter solstice occured yesterday evening but many druid and pagan communities saw today as the first dawn after the solstice.

The archdruid Rollo launched proceedings. Little Evie emerged from her blankets to join in a chant encouraging world peace. As Rollo strayed into politics, hoping that some good may come out of the climate change talks in Copenhagen, Hector sought comfort in a Crunchie bar.

Another 10-year-old, Ashvini, kept warm by playing snowballs with his dad, Dheeraj Kulshrestha, after possibly the longest journey of everyone. They were stopping off in London en route from Ohio to India and decided to make the pilgrimage to Stonehenge for the solstice. The trip took them eight hours. “But it’s been worth it,” said Kulshrestha. “This is a unique experience.”

Eight-year-old Ben, from Devon, didn’t sound so sure. “It’s cold and I want to go home and play games on my computer.” What were his hopes for the season? “A new computer game.”





Revellers a day early for solstice at Stonehenge

5 01 2010

AROUND 300 pagan worshippers braved freezing temperatures to celebrate the winter solstice at Stonehenge, but turned up on the wrong day.

Dressed in traditional robes, they met at the stone circle on Monday to mark the rising of the sun on the shortest day of the year, but got their calculations wrong.

The winter solstice occurs when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is at its furthest from the Sun, resulting in the fewest hours of sunlight of the year.

Although it normally falls on December 21, the exact time of the solstice varies each year and this year the solstice was 5.47pm on Monday so, because the sun had already set, the official celebrations took place at sunrise on Tuesday.

But the hundreds of enthusiastic worshippers who turned up a day early went ahead and celebrated anyway.

English Heritage, which manages the site, decided to open the gates and welcome them even though it was the wrong day.

Hundreds more pagans and druids turned up on Tuesday morning for the official winter solstice celebrations.








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