Stonehenge by Mike Parker Pearson: review

29 06 2012

One thing’s for sure, Mike Parker Pearson won’t be bouncing up and down on   Jeremy Deller’s inflatable replica of Stonehenge this summer. The title of   Deller’s artwork, Sacrilege, couldn’t prove more appropriate.   As Professor Pearson establishes once and for all in his (literally)   groundbreaking new book, Stonehenge has a very curious connection to the   dead.

mike-peasron-book-stonehenge-bookIn 1918 the Office of Works rather hastily entrusted the restoration of   Stonehenge to the amateur hands of an archaeologist named Hawley. “Archaeology   has been likened to a historian reading the last surviving copy of an   ancient book and then tearing out and burning every page”, Pearson   says. Hawley’s involvement was a bit like this.

Until recently, many scholars believed that a wooden structure, like those   known to have stood in Durrington Walls, down the River Avon, originally   occupied the site at Stonehenge. Chipping away at a rare patch of rubble   Hawley had missed in one of the chalk pits (called Aubrey Holes), Pearson   and his team of archaeologists have attempted to overhaul that possibility,   suggesting that the ground was compressed in such a way as to prove that   Stonehenge was only ever made of stone. The eureka moment sprung from a   surprisingly simple hypothesis: stone is made to last, wood will perish.   Stone, in other words, is ripe for commemorating the dead, wood a material   for the living.

Though much remains untouched, Stonehenge, which dates to as early as 3000BC,   has so far offered up from its chalky soils the cremated burials of over 60   humans. Pearson and his team have also unveiled a handful of remains, dating   from the point when the Brits, admitting European influence, switched to   burying their dead (after 2400BC). Piecing together this evidence, Pearson   presents a compelling reinterpretation of the significance of this landmark   monument in time and space.

Dispelling many of the myths that have fogged the bare essentials of the site   for centuries, Pearson has produced a clear and intriguing argument for   viewing Stonehenge as the final resting place for elite, local males of the   third millennium BC. With scientists still at work on the human remains from   his many years of excavation, that story is still an evolving one.

Although his main concern is with a construction associated with death,   Pearson does a remarkable job of bringing back to life the hitherto unknown   inhabitants of Durrington Walls. The two places, he proves beyond question,   were part and parcel of the same Stone Age network, among which early Briton   was never just all beard and brawn. He was a masterful architect, Pearson   shows, and a hearty eater. Pig teeth, cow bones, bits of beaver, were all   uncovered from the Durrington Walls area, helping to characterise it as an   important place of celebration in the shadow of Stonehenge itself. The   connection between life and death, he convinces, was of primary importance   to the builders, and inhabitants, of the monument.

Stonehenge has both the taste and the content of an authentic archaeological   log-book, and without doubt will become an essential academic source. What   sets it apart is the almost pain-staking patience with which Pearson is   prepared to break down even the most complex of scientific processes. He has   somehow convinced me, probably unwisely, that if left to excavate a field,   I’d have a fair idea as to where to start.

Stonehenge by Mike Parker Pearson is published by Simon &   Schuster (£25.00)

By Daisy Dunn – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/9361647/Stonehenge-by-Mike-Parker-Pearson-review.html

Merlin says ” A truly great read”

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

Merlin @ The Stonehenge Website

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