The “Council of Ancestors” theory of Stonehenge.

25 09 2020

Stonehenge was the epitome of a belief system that spanned millennia. To understand the monument we have to look at it through prehistoric eyes. (Written by guest blogger David Atkins)

The “Council of Ancestors” theory of Stonehenge I am currently working on Project Greta – the re-examination of the cranium (calvarium) of a woman who died it is believed 10,000 years ago. We have had international coverage and the project has been translated into several other languages.

David Atkins is currently leading Project Greta – the re-examination of what we believe is Britain’s oldest skull at around 10,000 years old.

The cranium is currently being examined with a battery of tests and if proven will be the oldest complete cranium ever found in Britain. Originally ascribed to the Mesolithic it dropped off the academic radar many years ago and the story can be seen on a number of websites (google Greta Skull Adkins). The research drew me to another cranium – that of a male also found in Burton on Trent and referred to as Mabus. This is also being re-examined with the benefits of modern science although is almost certainly from the Iron Age at the earliest – based on later evidence from the same gravel pit location.

Mabus was found in 1953 and was packed with what was described as “a red ferruginous substance” that was believed to have helped its preservation. This substance was never identified at the time but I now believe it to have been red ochre – or a composite containing it and deliberately placed there. Having considered that the Red Lady of Paviland – thousands of years older than Mabus may also have been treated with a similar substance the very basic question arose – if our ancestors were deliberately trying to preserve their dead over millennia then they must have been doing it to prevent the physical decay and subsequent loss of the remains. There are massive similarities between bodily preservations around the world in relation to red ochre and other mineral elements.

Assuming that the Paviland skeleton and Mabus were both deliberately treated with ochre or something very similar then a huge question arises . If for thousands of years our ancestors were “fixing” their remains where were they keeping them ? No doubt at the beginning of this system of preservation they would have been housed in wooden structures at the centre of the community, although as the belief system developed so too did the receptacles needed to house the bodies – as such the only logical conclusion for the purpose of Stonehenge is that it was constructed to house a covered inner chamber in which to place the mummified (fixed remains) of the ancestors.

The horse shoe design of the inner circle was I believe a covered inner chamber designed to display the mummies. It was a covered structure in the design of a modern council chamber – the attached illustration is a 19thcentury plan of Staffordshire County Councils chamber – and you can instantly see the similarity with the Stonehenge horse shoe structure.

Within this covered mound I believe there would have been wooden platforms around the inner edges at various levels and on these platforms were seated the mummified remains of the ancestors arranged as a sitting council. This may seem somewhat bizarre to modern minds but to a prehistoric society it would have made perfect sense. The ancestors were at the heart of everything they did, they watched over the living , they could be communicated with to intercede in daily events , and intervene on behalf of their community. We have to forget the notion of the bandaged mummies of the classroom and look more towards the “fixed remains” developed in other ancient cultures throughout the world , including the smoking of bodies, disarticulation and the use of ochre. With the inner “council chamber” at Stonehenge the bodies may have had a uniform coloured appearance of a reddish ochre hue and would have looked uniform presenting an illusion of oneness or togetherness . To understand how powerful this illusion would have been one only has to imagine the impact the appearance and presence that a mummified relative would have had. Imagine for one moment a much loved father or mother being immortalised in such a way – they would assume an awe inspiring presence.

I have no doubt that it would have had a profound psychological affect upon them. When this is dropped into the context of a sitting council of the ancestors with positioned remains arranged in rows then it would have become the most powerful political religious and cultural tool we can imagine. Think for one minute of the spectacle the inner sanctum would have presented to the onlooker. A dim lit room full of ancestors facing what I believe would have been a frontal wooden platform at the flat end of the horseshoe where the shaman – and community elders – would have stood.

We can take this one step further by adding the use of mind altering drugs into the equation. There is strong evidence these were used in religious practices from earliest times- a shaman or even a whole community under the temporary influence of a psychedelic compound believing the ancestors would communicate with them would no doubt have elicited the illusion of “moving mouths” and even “voices” coming from the sitting council. To this end therefore Stonehenge was a communications tool , it allowed the community to converse with the ancestors and lobby them for help , advice and strength in times of war and peace.

The outer ring of stones – the great ring – would I believe have been there to primarily enclose the covered inner chamber and designate its space, to mark its bounds Secondly the outer circle was for the living , the community could gather around the inner chamber and feel closer to their ancestors. The hallowed ground between the outer circle and inner chamber would have been a place where the living could meet, trade or perform “blessings” with the presence of the ancestors at the core. Stonehenge was the physical expression, the physical interpretation of their belief system. At the heart were the ancestors seated in their “Spiritual Parliament” with whom the shaman and elders would communicate. The surrounding circle we see today embracing and enclosing the ancestors yet providing a place for the living to visit and to express life with all its challenges. The ancestors literally watching over the living. I think far too much has been made of the perceived alignment to the stars and much of this may be coincidental at best. The structure was more to make a statement – it was to dominate the landscape and reaffirm the fact that “this land is ours” – and “here are our ancestors” to prove it. It was big, bold and designed to dominate and illicit awe in the community.

It could also be defended easily in times of conflict, like cattle protect their young in the well known circular formation. This physical presence was more important than its esoteric links to the stars – with one exception – the solstice . It is highly probable that the inner covered chamber itself was illuminated in a similar way to Newgrange at the solstice . As such for the shaman and elders seated on the frontal platform , the illumination of the ancestors would have been to them a supernatural expression of divinity. The ancestors in that musty smelling chamber would , during the solstice have become “the first true illuminati” in the literal sense of the word and to those early people they probably carried the same connotations as the perceived notion (in populist culture) that the illuminati do today. One can just imagine the inner chamber beginning to light up at the solstice and the sitting ancestors appearing from the gloom. Their faces would have been recognisable to their relatives.

It is certain of course that not everybody would have entered the hallowed sanctum after death. The elite, the spiritual leaders , the great thinkers and the warriors would have been elevated to this exalted status – the common people being buried in the countless burial mounds around the monument we see today . And the cremated remains found by archaeologists in the holes around the inner chamber were not evidence , I think of a crematoria as such , but were either of the deposed mummified bodies when “governments” changed or merely represent one mass cremation when the belief system itself changed -and the inner chamber was destroyed – probably burnt to the ground when people stopped believing in the ancestors. Notwithstanding the necessary speculation that is required to understand the monument I think that when we accept that in ancient Britain our ancestors were preserving their dead , in whatever way they could , then there can be only one possible explanation for Stonehenge – it was designed specifically to house the fixed remains of our ancestors. This was no mausoleum or tomb but a “living” parliament – a sitting council of the ancestors which sat at the very heart of their belief system. We see possible remnants of this practice in more recent times in the Saints bodies that were preserved in abbeys , churches and monasteries throughout Europe.

One day I’m sure that the “Council of the Ancestors” theory will be supported as more archaeological evidence is uncovered. Much good work has been done by anthropologists on tribes from around the world who preserve their dead kinsfolk to this day – often with ochre like substances – and the remains play a significant part in their living communities. I have no doubt that one day the dynamic “Spiritual Parliament” and “Council of Ancestors” interpretations will be one of the more plausible explanations for Stonehenge.

For interest I attach a letter written around 1810 to the Anglesey antiquarian Paul Panton which describes Stonehenge spelt as two words “Stone Henge”. It interestingly describes lichen on the stones and may not have been published before. I think Anglesey’s perceived links to the druids may have elicited Pantons interest in 1810 – perhaps even the mummified remains of individuals from Anglesey were also placed on the seated council of the ancestors at Stonehenge – it would make sense to have the spiritual leaders of the day preserved among the dead. I have no doubt that there will be many detractors and those who will reject the theory, some will see it as ghoulish, bizarre or elementary. My answer is simple – visit Stonehenge and look at it again through prehistoric eyes. ….

David Atkins is currently leading Project Greta – the re-examination of what we believe is Britain’s oldest skull at around 10,000 years old. The cranium / calvarium is currently with the Francis Crick Institute in London . As part of his wider research he was able to clarify what he thinks was the original purpose of Stonehenge. David would like see what people think of the Council of the Ancestors theory.

David Atkins Email:


  • 10,000-year-old Burton skull that went missing for decades found in storage
    A Burton man hopes to examine ‘Greta’ using modern day technology DERBY TELEGRAPH
  • Mystery of Britain’s ‘most ancient skull’ lost for 40 years solved – after 14,000-year-old Greta’s cranium found in dusty cupboard – HEAD TOPICS
  • Skull found in Staffordshire could be 14,000-years-old – ITV
  • Visit Stonehenge with an expert tour guide – STONEHENGE TOURS
  • Bronze Age Brits Kept Bone Keepsakes From Their Dead Old Relatives – SCIENCE ALERT

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