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20 April 2008
Did Romans 'tide up' Stonehenge?

As reported last week, after a gap of some forty four years, Stonehenge is once again being excavated. The excavations are being conducted by Geoffrey Wainwright (ex-English Heritage) and Tim Darvill (Bournemouth University), following up their research into the sources of the blue stones in the Prescelly Mountains in Pembrokeshire: but as they are being funded by the BBC TimeWatch programme, they are being carried out with the maximum publicity. What they are looking for is evidence for the dating of the arrival of the bluestones at Stonehenge.
     The bluestones story is a complicated one, as the present circle of bluestones is not in the original position. There is a circle of bluestone pits known as the Q and R holes, where it is assumed that the stones were originally set before they were put in their current position. However there is no good dating evidence for the Q and R holes, so the present excavations aim to uncover the base of one of the bluestone holes in the hopes that they may find an antler-pick for radiocarbon dating.
     However the most surprising discoveries so far have been Roman. In a small pit containing a small bluestone in the corner of the trench, itself cut into the main socket of one of the uprights, they found a Roman coin. Even more alarming, was the excavation of the large pit in the centre of the excavation, where right near the bottom they found a very small piece of what was indubitably Roman pottery. Was there a major reordering of the site in the Roman period? As Geoffrey Wainwright said, their small trench looked like an urban excavation, there were so many intercutting pits.
     Were the Romans rather like English Heritage, people who abhor untidiness, and when they came to Stonehenge, they found a somewhat decrepit monument in need of tender loving care, and said "Oh these wretched druids, they never look after their ancient monuments properly – we had better send along a gang to tidy it up and pay due respects to whatever gods were originally worshipped there"? But just how extensive was this tidying up? How much of the plan of Stonehenge that has come to us is due to Roman interference? This is still a mistery, but maybe the current excavation will bring some additional clues.

Source: Current Archaeology (April 2008)

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