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30 July 2005
Research programme at Stonehenge is needed

Scientists are demanding a full-scale research programme be launched to update our knowledge of Stonehenge and discover precisely who built it and its burial barrow graves. This is the key recommendation of Stonehenge: an Archaeological Research Framework, edited by Timothy Darvill of Bournemouth University, soon to be published by English Heritage. It highlights serious flaws in our knowledge of the monument, which is now a World Heritage Site.
     "Stonehenge has not been well served by archaeology," admitted Dr David Miles, chief archaeology adviser to English Heritage. "Much of the area was excavated in the 19th century, when gentleman amateurs - glorified treasure-hunters, really - would get their labourers to dig great trenches straight into its barrows and graves. Then they would ransack them, taking away the human remains and grave goods. It was Indiana Jones stuff. We need to get that material back."
     Even in the 20th century, archaeological work, although carried out by professionals, was generally poor, said Miles. For example, the long barrows - the most ancient of the communal graves built round Stonehenge - have never been properly excavated. Yet these could be the resting places of the people who first made this area sacred. "It is over 50 years since substantial excavations have taken place at Stonehenge and more than two decades since the small-scale excavations," the report notes. This research gap needs to be rectified.
     The 'Amesbury Archer', recently found in a 4,000-year-old grave near Stonehenge, suggests that metalworkers from the Continent had already begun to trade and work in tin, copper and other metals in Britain 4,000 years ago and may have played key roles in building Stonehenge. The monument appears to have been the centre of major activity by travellers roaming across Britain, Ireland and the Continent.
     Archaeologists now want to hunt down the remains taken from barrows around Stonehenge: some may be in local museums, others in private hands. Armed with these materials, scientists could then recreate much of our ancient past.

Source: The Observer (24 July 2005)

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