|13 October 2008
Stonehenge 'older than believed'
New findings at Stonehenge suggest its stones were erected much earlier than thought, challenging the site's conventional history. A new excavation puts the arrival of the famous 'bluestones" - which now form the smallest of the circles - at 3000 BCE, almost 500 years earlier than originally thought. And suggests it was mainly a burial site. The latest results are from a dig by the Stonehenge Riverside Project. It is in conflict with recent research dating construction to 2300 BEC and suggesting it was a healing centre. The 2300 BCE date was arrived at by carbon dating and was the major finding from an excavation inside the henge by professors Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright. That dig was the subject of a BBC Timewatch documentary.
The new evidence comes from investigation of one of the 56 "Aubrey Holes" (named after the seventeenth-century antiquary who first noted them), which lie just inside the ditch and bank of the original henge monument, constructed in the early third millennium BCE. Re-excavation of Aubrey Hole 7, originally dug in 1920, showed a layer of crushed chalk at the bottom that suggested it had once held a heavy stone. "This had been missed by archaeologists twice before: it seems likely that similar evidence still survives in other Aubrey Holes", said Mike Pitts, one of the excavation directors. "We propose that very early in Stonehenge's history, 56 Welsh bluestones stood in a ring 87 metres (285 feet) across." This early stone circle would date to 3000 BCE, seven centuries before Stonehenge reached its present configuration. The team suggests the 2300 BCE date proposed by other researchers relates to the time when the stones were moved from the outer pits to the centre of the site.
Mike Parker-Pearson, professor of archaeology at Sheffield University, revived an earlier theory that the holes had held bluestones as the evidence of crushed and compacted chalk had been recorded in 1920 in three of the pits. Professor Parker-Pearson said: "It's very exciting that we have evidence for stones right from its beginnings around 3000 BCE. That's almost 500 years earlier than anyone had thought. These stones were very closely associated with the remains of the dead. There were cremation burials from inside the holes holding the stones and also the areas around them."
The new report said: "Contrary to claims made in the recent BBC Timewatch film, which promoted a theory of Stonehenge as a healing centre built after the practice of cremation burial had ceased, standing stones and burial may have been prominent aspects of Stonehenge's meaning and purpose for a millenium." The re-evaluation "has sweeping implications for our understanding of Stonehenge", Mr. Pitts said. It means that at the least, the bluestones were transported from Wales at a much earlier date than hitherto accepted, with implications for the organization of Neolithic society in Britain five thousand years ago. Designing a monument using exotic materials, acquiring them and constructing this putative early stone circle argues for social control, and knowledge of distant domains, more complex than we have envisaged. "This means that Stonehenge was always about death and ancestors and burial and not healing," Mr Pitts added.
Geoffrey Wainwright, one of the archaelogists behind the BBC film, maintained that healing was one of the uses of the site. "We do not claim Stonehenge was a single use monument," he said. "We think it was a multifunctional monument and part of its purpose was for healing."
Source: Times Online (8 October 2008), BBC News, Telegraph.co.uk (9 October 2008)
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