Archaeologists Looking At Stonehenge In A New Light

StonehengeStonehenge is the world’s most iconic prehistoric monument. Scientists have argued about its significance for generations, but few have been allowed to excavate there. Archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson is one of those lucky few, and he’s documented his finds in a new book.

Stonehenge: A New Understanding chronicles a seven-year excavation of Stonehenge and the surrounding countryside.

Pearson and his team took an innovative approach and came up with some innovative interpretations. Instead of looking at Stonehenge as an isolated monument, they studied the landscape and other prehistoric monuments around it. This led them to determine that Stonehenge was part of a ritualistic network of monuments and natural features.

But what was it all for? Pearson believes that despite the astronomical alignments and the regular meetings of people at Stonehenge, it was not a monument to nature or the seasons or fertility as many archaeologists have concluded, but rather a monument to the dead, similar to other enclosed cremations burial grounds in the British Isles. Other constructions nearby were symbols of life and were intimately connected to Stonehenge just as the concepts of life and death are intimately connected with each other.

The main connection is with a site called Durrington Walls, two miles away from Stonehenge. Both had avenues leading to a nearby river. Durrington Walls, however, had a settlement while Stonehenge only had burials. Natural features in the landscape aligned with important astronomical events, making the location of Stonehenge perfect for any monument concerned with the heavens.

Weighing in at 350 dense pages, this is not for the casually interested reader. Luckily Pearson has a clear writing style, avoids getting overly technical, and the book is richly illustrated with maps and photographs that help the reader follow the text. I would suggest this to anyone with a serious interest in archaeology and science.

I had the good fortune to hear Dr. Pearson talk a few years ago to a packed auditorium at Oxford University. Once he was done, Oxford professors gathered around in their self-important way to talk with this leading scientist. Before they could start posturing, a twelve-year-old girl came up to him and chirped, “I want to be an archaeologist!”

Dr. Pearson could have patted her on the head, replied, “That’s nice darling” and gone on to speak with the professors, but he didn’t. Instead he sat her down and spoke with her for a good five minutes about what she needed to do to become an archaeologist and all the fun she could have in that career.

The professors looked ruffled and impatient. The girl left glowing with enthusiasm.

That’s my kind of scientist.

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Stonehenge Site 3000 Years Older Than Previously Thought, Excavation Reveals

Stonehenge
Archaeologists working near Stonehenge have found that habitation in the area started at least 3,000 years before the famous monument was built.

The BBC reports that a team of archaeologists working at Amesbury next to a stream a mile from Stonehenge have found evidence that hunter-gatherers were frequenting the site well before Stonehenge was started around 3000 B.C.

The site is the closest source of water to Stonehenge and therefore would have been of prime importance for the local hunter-gatherers during the Mesolithic, the period before the Neolithic farming era when Stonehenge was started. Not only would it have been important as a water source and for the plants that grew along its banks, but hunters could have bagged the animals that came to drink there. Carbon dates from butchered animal bones at the site give ages of 6250 B.C., 5400 B.C. and 4700 B.C.

The excavation is run by David Jacques, a tutor at Open Univeristy. A hundred Open University students and other members of the public volunteered for the dig, which is running on a shoestring budget. The excavation has also uncovered material from later periods, including a pair of duck figurines dating from 700 B.C. Open University has an interesting video about the dig dating from 2011, before the important radiocarbon dates came in.

[Photo courtesy Flickr user Jeffrey]

Stonehenge Replicas Pop Up Everywhere!

Stonehenge replicas, Snowhenge
Is this Stonehenge? No, it’s Snowhenge! It’s a 1/3-scale replica built at the MacKay Jaycees Family Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While it certainly wasn’t as hard to build as the original megalithic stone circle in England, it still involved working 1000 cubic feet of packed snow to make a circle more than six feet tall and thirty feet in diameter. The builders did such an accurate job that they preserved the original monument’s astronomical alignments.

Stonehenge is endlessly fascinating and has inspired people all over the world to create replicas. The most realistic looking is Foamhenge at Natural Bridge, Virginia. The “stones” are made out of painted styrofoam that have been sculpted in the exact shapes of the real Stonehenge.

There’s also the Maryhill Stonehenge, a full-sized concrete recreation of what Stonehenge used to look like in its heyday rather than the ruins we have now. Located in Maryhill, Washington, it was built as a monument to the dead of World War I. In Rolla, Missouri, students at the Missouri University of Science and Technology used water jets to sculpt a Stonehenge out of some 160 tons of granite. It was named one of the year’s Ten Outstanding Engineering Achievements by the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1985. Then there’s Carhenge, near Alliance, Nebraska, which is made out of, well. . .you know.

%Gallery-153665%Americans aren’t the only people making new Stonehenges. Despite having the original, the British have built numerous replicas. Even as far back as the early 19th century, gentlemen with too much money and not enough to do were building Stonehenges on their country estates. Contemporary British Artist Jeremy Deller has put a modern twist on an old tradition with his inflatable bouncy Stonehenge in honor of the 2012 Olympics. And then there’s Stonehenge Aotearoa in New Zealand, which has similar astronomical alignments to Stonehenge (solstices, equinoxes, etc.) but aligned for the Southern hemisphere.

For all the latest on Stonehenge replicas, check out Clonehenge, a blog dedicated to them. They have info about Citrus-henge, Woolhenge, and my personal favorite: Spamhenge! If you make your own replica, send them a photo and they’ll post it online with a rating of one to ten druids. And yes, they know the druids didn’t build Stonehenge.

This isn’t just a quirky blog, but a serious research project. Well, maybe not serious, but pretty meticulous in any case. They’ve documented 72 large permanent Stonehenge replicas from all over the world in addition to the ones made with cake, jelly, glass and medicine bottles.

[Photo courtesy MichiganArchaeologist]

We should all dance in front of tourist attractions

Most people visit tourist attractions to see the sights and say that they’ve been there. They snap photos of the monuments, pose for a few more shots so that they can prove that they were there and then move on. One clever young lady, however, decided to dance in front of some of the UK and Europe’s most famous places. And when Andrea Dighton dances, it’s not just glorified running in place. Seriously, how many of these dance moves can you perform? While we’re at it, how many landmarks can you identify in the video?

Smartphone app reveals new mysteries in Stonehenge landscape

Stonehenge
Recent excavations around Stonehenge have shown that the famous monument didn’t stand alone in the landscape; it was part of a network of monuments that developed over time.

One of the most enigmatic is Bluestonehenge, a mile away from Stonehenge and only excavated a few years ago. It was a stone circle much like Stonehenge, although now all that remains are the holes where the stones were placed around 3000 BC. Fragments of rock in the holes show the stones were originally bluestones, imported from Wales and also used for the inner circle of Stonehenge. In fact, some archaeologists believe they were removed from Bluestonehenge and incorporated into Stonehenge around 2500 BC.

Now a new analysis using a smartphone app (of all things!) indicates that Bluestonehenge might have originally been an oval. Past Horizons reports that archaeologist Henry Rothwell was working on a smartphone app about the Stonehenge landscape when he noticed something strange about the known holes of Bluestonehenge and those that hadn’t yet been uncovered. When he made a reconstruction of the site using the existing holes, they didn’t form a neat circle, but rather an oval.

In fact this oval is the same orientation and shape as Stonehenge and another site in the area–Woodhenge. Both Stonehenge and Woodhenge are aligned on the mid-summer and mid-winter solstices, and if Rothwell’s reconstruction is correct, then Bluestonehenge is as well. This makes a whole network of monumental sites stretching across centuries of history, all aligned to work as prehistoric calendars.

[Photo courtesy Steve Walker]