BREAKING NEWS: Geophysical survey reveals secret chambers and corridors underneath Stonehenge.

1 04 2017

Most people are unaware of the underground chamber that lies beneath Stonehenge.

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The six entrances to it are clearly visible in the recent geophysical survey, arranged as a squashed hexagon with linking corridors between them, leading to the antechamber located below the North Barrow and the main room directly below the stone circle.

Col. William Hawley’s excavations of 1926 revealed the existence of the entrances and corridors, but he didn’t investigate further as he was already in his mid-70s and had been abandoned by the workers assigned to assist him.

The records of this discovery existed only in Hawley’s personal notebooks, which lay unexamined until the mid 1950s.

In 1958, under the pretext of re-erecting a collapsed Trilithon, Richard Atkinson’s team made extensive excavations in the centre of the circle in an attempt to break through to the main room after the route via the antechamber was discovered to be blocked by a massive sarsen stone.

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While the waiting crowd’s interest was held by the struggle to put back up two massive uprights and a correspondingly huge lintel, the real work in the centre circle continued for 4 months and 1 day.

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Very few photographs exist of what was found once the chalk capping of the main chamber had been breached, but Atkinson’s archive was badly catalogued so it has been difficult to attribute photos to positions with any kind of accuracy.

A particularly tantalising, but unlabelled, photo has emerged.

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Atkinson never published what he found, in fact his only report of the extensive 1950s excavations and restorations were two popular books – one called “Stonehenge”, and the other called “What is Stonehenge? A Guide for Young People”.

Towards the end of the project the decision was taken to fill the main room, antechamber and access corridors with concrete to prevent the collapse of the monument above.

Was this a cover up?

As far as the world’s press and the public were concerned, the project had been a huge success – a Trilithon that had collapsed in 1797 had been restored along with stones from the outer circle that had fallen on the last day of 1900. Publicity photos showed Stonehenge “restored” to something approaching its former glory.

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Occasionally an photograph appears on eBay claiming to be from the archive of Atkinson’s benefactor Sir “Polo” Divans, the likely recipient of any finds from the main chamber. This is one of a peculiar object from his collection.

Occasionally an photograph appears on eBay claiming to be from the archive of Atkinson’s benefactor Sir “Polo” Divans, the likely recipient of any finds from the main chamber. This is one of a peculiar object from his collection.

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The six entrances were left unsealed but capped with metal covers at ground level – these can easily be found in the grass – and once a year there is a stress test of the concrete infill to ensure no subsidence or cracking has occurred. This is achieved by pumping chemical smoke in at one entrance and checking for leaks at each of the other five.

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Bizarrely, there was a Doctor Who episode filmed at Stonehenge in 2010 entitled “The Pandorica Opens” that used the idea of an “Underhenge” beneath the monument.

Perhaps someone on the production or writing team had some inside knowledge of what really lies beneath. The rest of us will never know for sure.

Thanks to local historian Simon Banton for sharing this ground breaking story

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Barbeque-style roasting. The culinary habits of the Stonehenge builders

15 10 2015

A team of archaeologists at the University of York have revealed new insights into cuisine choices and eating habits at Durrington Walls — a Late Neolithic monument and settlement site thought to be the residence for the builders of nearby Stonehenge during the 25th century BC.

A reconstruction drawing of how the prehistoric village of Durrington Walls  might have looked in 2500BC [Credit: English Heritage]

A reconstruction drawing of how the prehistoric village of Durrington Walls might have looked in 2500BC [Credit: English Heritage]

Together with researchers at the University of Sheffield, detailed analysis of pottery and animal bones has uncovered evidence of organised feasts featuring barbeque-style roasting, and an unexpected pattern in how foods were distributed and shared across the site.

Chemically analysing food residues remaining on several hundred fragments of pottery, the York team found differences in the way pots were used. Pots deposited in residential areas were found to be used for cooking animal products including pork, beef and dairy, whereas pottery from the ceremonial spaces was used predominantly for dairy.

Such spatial patterning could mean that milk, yoghurts and cheeses were perceived as fairly exclusive foods only consumed by a select few, or that milk products — today often regarded as a symbol of purity — were used in public ceremonies.

Unusually, there was very little evidence of plant food preparation at any part of the site. The main evidence points to mass animal consumption, particularly of pigs. Further analysis of animal bones, conducted at the University of Sheffield, found that many pigs were killed before reaching their maximum weight. This is strong evidence of planned autumn and winter slaughtering and feasting-like consumption.

The main methods of cooking meat are thought to be boiling and roasting in pots probably around indoor hearths, and larger barbeque-style roasting outdoors — the latter evidenced by distinctive burn patterns on animal bones.

Bones from all parts of the animal skeleton were found, indicating that livestock was walked to the site rather than introduced as joints of meat. Isotopic analysis indicates that cattle originated from many different locations, some far away from the site. This is significant as it would require orchestration of a large number of volunteers likely drawn from far and wide. The observed patterns of feasting do not fit with a slave-based society where labour was forced and coerced, as some have suggested.

Dr Oliver Craig, Reader in Archaeological Science at the University of York and lead author on the paper, said: “Evidence of food-sharing and activity-zoning at Durrington Walls shows a greater degree of culinary organisation than was expected for this period of British prehistory. The inhabitants and many visitors to this site possessed a shared understanding of how foods should be prepared, consumed and disposed. This, together with evidence of feasting, suggests Durrington Walls was a well-organised working community.”

Professor Mike Parker Pearson, Professor at University College London and Director of the Feeding Stonehenge project who also led the excavations at Durrington Walls, said: “This new research has given us a fantastic insight into the organisation of large-scale feasting among the people who built Stonehenge. Animals were brought from all over Britain to be barbecued and cooked in open-air mass gatherings and also to be eaten in more privately organized meals within the many houses at Durrington Walls.

“The special placing of milk pots at the larger ceremonial buildings reveals that certain products had a ritual significance beyond that of nutrition alone. The sharing of food had religious as well as social connotations for promoting unity among Britain’s scattered farming communities in prehistory. ”

Dr Lisa-Marie Shillito, who analysed the pottery samples and recently joined Newcastle University, added: “The combination of pottery analysis with the study of animal bones is really effective, and shows how these different types of evidence can be brought together to provide a detailed picture of food and cuisine in the past.”

The study has been published in the Antiquity Journal.
Source: University of York [October 12, 2015]

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