Stonehenge revealed: Why Stones Were a “Special Place”

22 06 2013

Lead archaeologist at Stonehenge discusses his team’s discoveries in new book

The eerie megaliths of Stonehenge have inspired speculation for centuries.

Druids—and sometimes aliens—have been suspected of planting the 4,500-year-old stones. Is Stonehenge an astronomical calendar or a place of healing or a marker for magical energy lines in the ground? For a long time, no one really knew, though some theories were more grounded in reality than others.

Each year revelers like these travel to Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice. Photograph by Jim Richardson, National Geographic

Each year revelers like these travel to Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice.
Photograph by Jim Richardson, National Geographic

But now, we may be a little bit closer to understanding the monumental Neolithic site. Archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson and his colleagues at the Stonehenge Riverside Project, whose research was funded in part by the National Geographic Society, spent seven years excavating Stonehenge and its surroundings. This month, Parker Pearson published the project’s findings in a new book, Stonehenge—A New Understanding: Solving the Mysteries of the Greatest Stone Age Monument.

National Geographic writer Rachel Hartigan Shea spoke with Parker Pearson about what he and his colleagues discovered and how modern celebrants greeting the summer solstice at Stonehenge may have gotten the wrong day.

What got you first interested in researching Stonehenge?

Well, I have to say I didn’t actually have any interest at all in Stonehenge. I was working with Ramilisonina, a Malagasy archaeologist. He comes from a megalith-building culture, so I thought he’d be interested to see Stonehenge. I took him to take a look, and he said, “What do you mean you don’t know what it’s for? It’s obvious.” Then he said, “Mike, have you learned nothing in all of our work together with standing stones in Madagascar?”

He explained to me it was surely built for the ancestors. In Madagascar, they build in stone for the ancestors because it is a permanent medium—permanent like the ancestors—whereas they live in wooden houses because those will perish just like human life will end. I laughed initially and said, “Well, I don’t think that’s necessarily really going to have anything to do with Britain 5,000 years ago.”

But I realized that actually we did have timber circles very close to the stone circle of Stonehenge. That was quite a bombshell for me.

How were the excavations that you worked on at Stonehenge different from previous excavations there?

I think the important thing was not to dig just at Stonehenge but to actually investigate the wider landscape around it and to begin by looking at this area of the timber circles close by. It was there that we found that the place of wood had indeed to do with the living. (See Stonehenge pictures.)

When we came back to Stonehenge and dug there, we recovered some 60 cremation burials inside Stonehenge. What we now know is that Stonehenge was the largest cemetery of its day.

Ramilisonina’s ideas about a place in stone for the dead and a place in wood for the living started as a theory but has actually become a fact as a result of our investigations.

The timber circles were located at a site called Durrington Walls. How was that the place of the living?

At Durrington Walls, we have two of these great timber circles—a bit like Stonehenge in wood—at the center of an enormous village. From where we’ve excavated, you’re looking at a fairly dense settlement of houses.

We discovered that they’d been feasting there on a very large scale. We estimate that about four to five thousand people may have gathered there at the time they were building Stonehenge. (Take a Stonehenge quiz.)

We also know that there were seasonal influxes into the settlement at Durrington Walls. Through analysis of the age patterns on the teeth of pigs, we can see that there are particularly high points in the slaughtering patterns. The pigs had given birth in spring, and what we’re seeing is a culling in the middle of the winter.

Here we are on the summer solstice, but this evidence suggests that people were gathering in large numbers at the winter solstice. We’ve been getting it wrong in modern times about when to gather at Stonehenge.

So Stonehenge was built to commemorate the dead?

Stonehenge wasn’t built in order to do something, in the same way you might build a Greek temple to use it for worship. It seems much more likely that everything was in the act of building—that you’d construct it, then you’d go away. You’d come back 500 years later, you’d rebuild it in a new format, and then you’d go away.

I think we have to shake off this idea of various sorts of priests or shamans coming in every year over centuries to do their thing. This is a very different attitude to religious belief. It’s much more about the moment. It’s about what must have been these upwellings of religious—almost millennial—belief, and once the thing is done, then everyone disperses and goes back to their lives.

What do the summer and midwinter solstices have to do with where Stonehenge is located?

One of our discoveries in 2008 was on the avenue that leads out of Stonehenge. As you are moving along the avenue away from Stonehenge, you are looking toward where the sun rises on the midsummer solstice. If you turn 180 degrees and look back toward Stonehenge, that’s where the sun sets on the midwinter solstice. Underneath the avenue, we discovered a natural landform, formed in a previous ice age, where there are grooves and ridges that by sheer coincidence are aligned on that solstitial axis.

Right next to this landform are pits dug to hold posts that were put up 10,000 years ago, much older than Stonehenge. Another archaeological team has discovered down by the river next to Stonehenge a huge settlement area for hunters and gatherers, which seems to have been occupied on and off for something like 4,000 years before Stonehenge itself was ever built.

We think that long before Stonehenge this location was already a special place. These hunters and gatherers may have been the people who first recognized this special feature in the land where the earth and the heavens were basically in harmony.

This interview has been edited and condensed.
Full Article: : http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130621-stonehenge-summer-solstice-archaeology-science/

Follow Rachel Hartigan Shea on Twitter.
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Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge News Blog





Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons

8 03 2013

Ancient bodies lie buried beneath Stonehenge, but what can they tell us about Britain’s greatest prehistoric monument? One man has found vital clues to this ancient puzzle

c4-stonehengeStonehenge is Britain’s greatest prehistoric monument and, for many centuries, has also provided perhaps our greatest prehistoric mystery.

One man believes he has found the vital clues to solve this puzzle, and this programme follows him through a series of discoveries that rewrite the story of Stonehenge.

Buried beneath the stones are ancient bodies, and a research team led by world-renowned archaeologist Professor Mike Parker Pearson has been granted special permission to analyse them for the first time.

The results of that investigation overturn the accepted view on when Stonehenge was built and what it was built for, providing compelling evidence that it once united the people of Britain.

The programme proves that the monument we know today was not the original Stonehenge and answers the mystery of its sudden decline.

When? Next on Channel 4 Sun 10th March , 8PM

Watch a clip here

Link: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/secrets-of-the-stonehenge-skeletons

Links: http://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/techfacils/secrets-of-the-stonehenge-skeletons/5052681.article?blocktitle=LATEST-FEATURES&contentID=38754

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge News Blog





Herders rather than farmers, built Stonehenge

10 09 2012

The ancient builders of Stonehenge may have had a surprisingly meaty diet and mobile way of life. 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.

Stonehenge in southern England may have been built by herders, not farmers, suggests a new analysis of crop remains from the last several millennia.

Stonehenge in southern England may have been built by herders, not farmers, suggests a new analysis of crop remains from the last several millennia.

Agriculture’s British debut occurred during a mild, wet period that enabled the introduction of Mediterranean crops such as emmer wheat, barley and grapes, say archaeobotanists Chris Stevens of Wessex Archaeology in Salisbury, England, and Dorian Fuller of University College London. Farming existed at first alongside foraging for wild fruits and nuts and limited cattle raising, but the rapid onset of cool, dry conditions in Britain about 5,300 years ago spurred a move to raising cattle, sheep and pigs, Stevens and Fuller propose in the September Antiquity.

With the return of a cultivation-friendly climate about 3,500 years ago, during Britain’s Bronze Age, crop growing came back strong, the scientists contend. Farming villages rapidly replaced a mobile, herding way of life.

Many researchers have posited that agriculture either took hold quickly in Britain around 6,000 years ago or steadily rose to prominence by 4,000 years ago. In either case, farmers probably would have assembled Stonehenge, where initial work began as early as 5,500 years ago, with large stones hauled in around 4,400 years ago (SN: 6/21/08, p.13).

But if Stevens and Fuller’s scenario of British agriculture’s ancient rise, demise and rebirth holds up, then small groups of roaming pastoralists collaborated to build massive, circular stone and wood structures, including Stonehenge. 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.

“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.

Stevens and Fuller compiled data on more than 700 cultivated and wild food remains from 198 sites across the British Isles whose ages had been previously calculated by radiocarbon dating. A statistical analysis of these dates and associated climate and environmental trends suggested that agriculture spread rapidly starting 6,000 years ago. About 700 years later, wild foods surged in popularity and cultivated grub became rare.

Several new crops — peas, beans and spelt — appeared around 3,500 years ago, when storage pits, granaries and other features of agricultural societies first appeared in Britain, Stevens and Fuller find. An influx of European farmers must have launched a Bronze Age agricultural revolution, they speculate.

Stevens and Fuller’s analysis offers only a general breakdown of how farming and pastoralism developed in Britain, asserts archaeologist Alasdair Whittle of Cardiff University in Wales. The scale of cultivation, even during times characterized by relatively abundant remains of domesticated plants, remains uncertain, Whittle says.

Even if farmers didn’t built Stonehenge, cultivators erected plenty of massive stone monuments, Whittle holds.
Bruce Bower
Link source: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/343984/title/Herders%2C_not_farmers%2C_built_Stonehenge

Sponsored by ‘Stonehenge Guided Tours’ www.StonehengeTours.com
The Stonehenge News Blog





View Stonehenge and other ancient cultural sites up close with Google’s new World Wonders Project

1 06 2012

Google launched the World Wonders Project on  Thursday, a new site that gives users the chance to see ancient and cultural  sites around the world up close.

Google’s Street  View has proved to be an invaluable tool for those people curious about the  world beyond their front door. Since its launch five years ago, the service has  traveled the world mapping roads, railways, parks,  airports, malls and even parts of the Amazon  basin.

And now the company has given us yet another excuse not to venture from the  confines of our cosy couch with the introduction of a new feature: the World Wonders Project.

Announced on Thursday in a post on the Mountain View  company’s official blog, the project offers up 132 ancient and cultural sites  spanning 18 countries. The World Wonders Project uses Street View technology to  allow users to get an up close view of the locations, which include the UK’s  Stonehenge, archaeological areas of Pompeii in Italy and ancient temples in  Japan’s former capital, Kyoto.

Some nice little bonuses come with Google’s new offering. Its Stonehenge  pictures, for example, take you right in among the stones — something you can’t  do if you visit in person, as a rope cordon around the ancient monument has been  in place for the last 35 years.

“Most could not be filmed by car, so we used camera-carrying trikes to pedal  our way close enough,” Melanie Blaschke, product marketing manager of the World  Wonders project, explained in the blog post.

To enhance the experience, the site offers 3D models and YouTube videos  relating to each location.

“We also partnered with several prestigious organizations, including UNESCO,  the World Monuments Fund, Getty Images and Ourplace, who provided official  information and photographs for many of the sites,” Blaschke wrote, adding “World Wonders is part of our commitment to preserving culture online and making  it accessible to everyone.”

Google hopes World Wonders will prove particularly popular with students and  scholars, and has even put together a number of educational packages for use in  the classroom.

So if you feel like enjoying some of the world’s ancient sites without  actually having to physically travel to them, or if time and money are a bit on  the tight side just now, the World Wonders Project could be well worth checking  out.

Read more: http://www.digitaltrends.com/

Sponsored by ‘The Stonehenge Tour Company’ – www.StonehengeTours.com

Merlin sayes “Great, no need to get off my sofa?????”

Merlin @ Stonehenge





Prehistoric Wiltshire. Sites of Significance

1 05 2012

If you are in doubt about the key role Wiltshire plays in the long history of these Islands, and that it has done so since the time humans first set foot on our soil, this book joins the growing scholarly titles from the excellent ‘heritage; publisher Amberley Publishing will dispel it.

Prehistoric Wilsthire

Prehistoric Wilsthire

This attractive book is the latest in a successful series from the Stroud-based publisher Amberley. (Amongst others, their titles include Prehistoric Gloucestershire by Tim Darvill, and John Aubrey and Stone Circles: Britain’s First Archaeologist by Aubrey Burl.) It is well written by a knowledgeable local archaeologist in a style that is pleasingly free of jargon, and opens with a fitting tribute from Francis Pryor.

As with some other titles in the series, this pocket-sized book is specifically designed as a field guide (at 235 x 165mm it is slightly larger than A5), in this instance describing nearly 50 of the most visible and accessible prehistoric monuments within the county of Wiltshire. The selected sites are grouped by topographic region (the Marlborough Downs, the Vale of Pewsey and so on), the majority situated on the chalk uplands. All the familiar forms of earthwork from causewayed camps and long barrows to round barrow groups and hillforts are covered. Appropriately, they include the monuments of the World Heritage Site centred on Avebury and Stonehenge, but information from the latest fieldwork in those areas ensures up-to-date coverage.

An introductory section provides a brief outline of the conventional sub-divisions of later prehistory (the Mesolithic to the Iron Age). Thereafter, details are offered on how best to reach each site: although there are no maps, National Grid References and useful directions are offered. Some of the sites are on private land and hence the book judiciously warns ‘this guide does not infer rights of way’, deferring to the county’s highway authority for the latest information on footpaths and bridleways. Nonetheless, it describes what can be seen at each site from the best publicly-accessible vantage points. The entries briefly describe the history of investigation at each site and summarize current understanding of its function and date.

The book is beautifully illustrated. The majority of the figures are the author’s own fine colour photographs, although some monochrome archival images are also used where necessary. Arguably the best views are the excellent oblique aerial photographs. Their use as an invaluable aid to comprehension recalls the local tradition pioneered by O. G. S. Crawford and Alexander Keiller in their 1928 work, Wessex from the Air. Evidently, the author enlisted the help of several pilots, employing a range of micro-light and private aircraft to gain the necessary perspective. Because the book focuses on visible sites, most of the subjects are obviously upstanding earthworks. Nonetheless, the photographs include a few soil-marks, crop-marks and excavations to emphasis that even in an area which boasts some of the country’s best-known monuments, many others have been lost from normal view.

It is well known that Wiltshire contains a remarkable number of well-preserved field monuments of various forms, and hence the author is in the enviable position of being able to select the most impressive. Because of the quality and visibility of its ancient monuments, Wiltshire is an ideal region to serve as an introduction for those unfamiliar with prehistoric remains, but equally it is an unceasing source of inspiration for the most experienced archaeologist. The field monuments are complemented by outstanding local museums whose displays reflect the long history of archaeological investigation within the county. Yet, despite the richness of their collections, these museums remain the responsibility of private trusts and societies that constantly struggle to find the necessary resources to conserve and exhibit their assets. It is most commendable, therefore, that Bob Clarke, the author, has written Prehistoric Wiltshire as a personal contribution to the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society’s fund raising effort to re-display the famous Bronze Age gallery at Devizes Museum. There are thus two compelling reasons to buy this excellent book – to guide you to some of the best prehistoric sites in Southern England, and to help display the spectacular objects found in some of those sites.

Sponsored by The Stonehenge Tour Companywww.StonehengeTourscm

Merlin says “Visiting Wiltshire ? Buy this book!”

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website





The Stonehenge prehistoric landscape. A Satellite view,

30 03 2012

I found this wonderful image on the stone-circles web site.  See it here:
http://www.stone-circles.org.uk/stone/stonehenge.htm
 Satellite image of the Stonehenge Landscape

It shows the “ritual” and non-ritual features in the Stonehenge area — with the features themselves overlaid onto a satellite image of the district.  Click to enlarge.

Links: http://brian-mountainman.blogspot.co.uk

Sponsored by ‘The Stonehenge Tour Company’ http://www.StonehenegTours.com

Merlin says “Stonehenge is so much more than a Stine Circle and I encourage you all to explore this prehistoric Landscape”

Merlin @ Stonehenge Stone Circle 





MEGALITHOMANIA TOURS 2012

28 03 2012

The Ultimate Conference for Megalithomaniacs 2012

Join us for an incredible selection of outdoor Antiquarian delights this May. Megalithomania invites you to explore, ponder, dowse, and be captivated by the incredible stones from antiquity. Over the years we have increased our tour schedule around the conference and now in 2012 we have eight days of tours and other activities for you to enjoy. From the heights of Glastonbury Tor, to the remote stone avenues of Dartmoor, the Olde English landscape still has lots to offer. With special guest experts joining us for each tour, who know their landscape well. For this year we introduce our new ‘Megalithic Cornwall‘ Tour with Glenn & Cameron Broughton. Save £42 if you book the ‘Full Ticket’ that includes the Cornwall Tour….

NEW: Megalithic Cornwall Tour Here


Coach travel included in price of all tours. Meet at Abbey Car Park. Bring packed lunch
. Info & Booking:             07779 113452

Friday 11th May: £55 (SOLD OUT)
Stonehenge with Robin Heath – 4pm – 9pm

Private Access to Stonehenge, with excursion to the Cursus, several Tumuli, Durrington Walls and Woodhenge. (inc private access to Stonehenge)

Monday 14th May:£50
Avebury & the Valley of the White Horse – 9am – 5pm

An exclusive tour around megalithic Avebury, the largest stone circle in the world, West Kennett Long Barrow, Silbury Hill and more with Peter Knight.

Tuesday 15th May: £50
Sacred Avalon Walking Tour – 9am – 1pm
with Anthony Thorley
Visiting the Tor, Glastonbury Abbey, Michael & Mary energy lines
Tuesday Afternoon: (inc in above price)
Cadbury Castle & Burrow Mump - 2.30pm – 6pm
A guided visit to two of the most impressive earthworks in Somerset

Wednesday 16th May: £50
Dartmoor Stone Circles and Avenues – 8am – 6pm

A five-hour walk around the incredible landscape of megalithic Dartmoor, Devon, visiting stone circles, megalithic avenues, menhirs and tracking earth energies. 90 min drive both ways. Bring packed lunch.
(NOTE: if you are going on the Cornwall Tour, you must be on this tour)

Link: http://www.megalithomania.co.uk/

Sponsored by ‘The Stonehenge Tour Company’ http://www.StonehengeTours.com

Merlin says “This conference is wirth every penny and a good excuse to spend a couple of days in Glastonbury”

Merlin at Stonehenge








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