Spotlight on Stonehenge
Following Approval for the closure of the Stonehenge road in November last year (2011) calls were heard for Stonehenge to be 'lit at night' as part of the multi-million-pound redevelopment of the site and to capitalise on its appeal. Lady Mimi Pakenham, of Warminster, in Wiltshire made the suggestion on the letters page of the Times that Stonehenge should be tastefully illuminated at night to "add some magic" to the stones.
|Stonehenge at Night by Harold Edgerton 1944|
Processional Route may link Cursus to Stonehenge
Also in November 2011 the team that brought us 'New Henge', promoted with the sensational headline of the discovery of a Neolithic henge, a sister monument to Stonehenge, the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection, claimed to have uncovered the “secret history” of Stonehenge as part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project. The team claimed that Stonehenge may already have been an important sacred site at least 500 years before the first Stone circle was erected. The project discovered two anomalies, one towards the enclosure’s eastern end, the other nearer its western end, which they are interpreting as two great pits with a celestial alignment that could have contained tall stones, wooden posts or fires. They claim that when viewed from the ‘Heel Stone’ at Stonehenge, the pits were aligned with the rising and setting of the sun on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.
The team considered the possibility that the pits within the Cursus could have defined a processional route used by agriculturists to celebrate the passage of the sun across the sky at the summer solstice. They also discovered a previously unknown gap in the middle of the northern side of the Cursus, which may have provided the main entrance and exit point for processions that took place within the enclosure.
Sourcing the Bluestones
The turn of the year saw a flurry of press releases on the source of the Stonehenge Bluestones following a paper from RA Ixer & RE Bevins in Archaeology in Wales 50 (2011) reporting on the latest stage in their work to pin down the precise origin of the Bluestones that may have formed the first stone circle at Stonehenge. Ixer and Bevins identified the outcrop at Craig Rhos-Y-Felin, Pont Saeson, north of Mynydd Preseli, as the dominant source of a particular Bluestone rock type found amongst the Stonehenge ‘debitage’.
The Bluestones of Stonehenge constitute several different rock types; spotted and unspotted Dolerites (also known as Preselite), in addition to rhyolites, tuffs, volcanic and calcareous ashes. One type of Bluestone was traced to north Pembrokeshire in the early 1920s, but now geologists have directly matched another type to a different part of north Pembrokeshire.
In 2009 Amgueddfa Cymru, in collaboration with the University of Leicester, began new petrological investigations. Examination of debris from the Cursus Field, adjacent to the Stonehenge Cursus, were found to be broadly similar to four standing Bluestones at the monument (SH38, SH40, SH46 and SH48), yet showed key differences. The source of this distinctive rhyolitic rock type from the Cursus debris has been identified at Pont Saeson, in the low ground to the north of Mynydd Preseli.
In June 2011 more detailed sampling at Pont Saeson identified the outcrop of Craig Rhos-y-felin as the source of the rock types recovered from the Cursus Field. By comparing the chemical properties of stone taken from outcrops in Wales with samples from the Bluestone debitage at Stonehenge the results revealed this as the major source of the majority of the rhyolite debris recovered during excavations at Stonehenge and the vicinity.
Three defined types of rhyolite (groups A-C), all deriving from Craig Rhos-y-Felin, have been recognized as debitage (waste created by shaping and dressing the stones, known as the Stonehenge Layer) from the 2008 (Darvill and Wainwright) excavations within the Stonehenge circle, the Heel Stone area, several Aubrey Holes, the Stonehenge Avenue, and the Stonehenge Cursus. Yet none of these rock types is represented amongst the surviving standing Bluestones at Stonehenge.
The hunt continues for the source of four standing Stonehenge Bluestones (SH38, SH40, SH46 and SH48) that have been found not to have any petrographical match for any rhyolitic lithology at Pont Saeson.
|North Pembrokeshire showing key Bluestone localities. |
After British Geological Survey (2010)
Bluestone fever continued in the January/February 2012 issue of British Archaeology magazine, No 122, which reported on a fragment of Bluestone found during Atkinson's excavations at Silbury in 1969-70 being matched to three spotted dolerite bluestone fragments recovered during Jim Leary's excavations (2007-08) on the mound top at Silbury as part of the English Heritage Conservation Project program. All four Silbury bluestone fragments are considered as belonging to a single block of spotted dolerite.
The Sound of Stonehenge
Whilst back in April 2012 Salford scientists revealed the 'sound of Stonehenge' after a four-year project led by Dr Bruno Fazenda and colleagues at Huddersfield and Bristol Universities, has established how the shouts, speeches, songs or even sacrificial screams (?) would have sounded. The method has been a painstaking piece of the relatively new discipline of 'archaeoacoustics', which reveals the sound quality of buildings from the past.
Obviously missing megaliths at the famous monument must have affected the results, however the team claim it was possible to make proper acoustic measurements that allow an investigation into striking effects such as echoes, resonances and whispering gallery effects. However, the data failed to reveal whether the site was designed specifically with acoustics in mind, like Greek or Roman theatres but it did demonstrate that the space reacted to acoustic activity in a way that would have been noticeable to the Neolithic man.
"Drenched Druids" was the headline on the Mail Online as the summer solstice at Stonehenge was the wettest in years with many swapping their white robes for pac-a-macs to welcome the midsummer sunrise at the prehistoric monument. Around 14,500 people are reported to have braved the miserable weather to welcome the dawn at Stonehenge with some of the heaviest rainfall falling overnight in England Wales. The village of Evershot in Dorset had 21.4mm in just six hours. In 2009 a record crowd of around 36,000 people gathered on Salisbury Plain to witness the Solstice sunrise at Stonehenge.
Stonehenge: Exploring the Greatest Stone Age Mystery
Do we really need yet another book on Stonehenge? June saw the publication of a new book on Stonehenge by Mike Parker Pearson recalling the work of the Stonehenge Riverside Project: Stonehenge: Exploring the Greatest Stone Age Mystery (Simon & Schuster, 2012 )
The new staging of the features inside Stonehenge that Parker Pearson presents here is assembled on the basis of a revised modelling of the available radiocarbon dates with data from the 2008 excavations in the central part of Stonehenge, together with new information from work at Aubrey Hole 7, is interpreted as the central Trilithon Horseshoe was the first structure to be built in the central area, perhaps along with the Sarsen Circle. The Bluestone circles were added later. Based on information from Darvill and Wainwright's 2008 excavations Parker Pearson also questions the chronology of the Q & R holes, initially thought to have been the first Bluestone phase at Stonehenge.
In the late Summer of 2011 Parker Pearson travelled to Craig Rhos-y-felin near Pont Saeson, identified as the source area of the Stonehenge Bluestones, in search of the quarry site. Craig Rhos-y-felin outcrop is some 70m long with many narrow slabs up to 2m tall splitting off from the parent rock in blocks that are reminiscent of the Stonehenge Bluestones. Evaluation trenches at the outcrop site revealed a detached columnar bock and associated tools such as hammerstones. This evidence suggests it was a genuine quarry worked by man with obvious implications for the transportation of the Bluestones to Salisbury Plain.
(See Green Man Archaeology Tour blogspot for an account of the excavation at Rhos-y-felin)
Following publication of Stonehenge: Exploring the Greatest Stone Age Mystery press releases followed presenting the theory that Stonehenge was constructed to unify Neolithic Britain:
Stonehenge built to unify the peoples of Britain
In June research reveals that the Stonehenge monument was constructed to mark the unification of Britain. After 10 years of archaeological investigations, researchers at the University of Sheffield have concluded that Stonehenge was built as a monument to unify the peoples of Britain, after a long period of conflict and regional difference between eastern and western Britain.
Stonehenge was constructed at a point on Salisbury Plain as a point of intersection between adjacent prehistoric territories, serving as a seasonal gathering place during the 4th and 3rd millennia BC for groups living in the lowlands to the east and west. Sound familiar? Colin Renfrew hypothesised in the 1970s that Stonehenge was the centre of a confederation of Bronze Age chiefdoms.
|Impression of the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre|
In July preparation work began this month with pre-construction tests being carried out to allow building work to begin next month on the new Stonehenge visitor centre scheduled to open in Autumn 2013.
Did Neolithic farming fail?
An article in the September issue of Antiquity Vol 86 by Chris Stevens of Wessex Archaeology in Salisbury, England, and Dorian Fuller of University College London suggested that Herders, not farmers, built Stonehenge, presenting the case for a Bronze Age agricultural revolution in the British Isles with the ancient pastoralists linked to construction of massive stone monuments. The paper rewrites the early history of Britain, showing that while the cultivation of cereals arrived there in about 4000 cal BC, it did not last.
Between 3300 and 1500 BC Britons became largely pastoral, reverting only with a major upsurge of agricultural activity in the Middle Bronze Age. This loss of interest in arable farming was accompanied by a decline in population, seen by the authors as having a climatic impetus. But they also point to this period as the time of construction of the great megalithic monuments, including Stonehenge. We are left wondering whether pastoralism was all that bad, and whether it was one intrusion after another that set the agenda on the island.
Bouncey Castle Stonehenge
During the summer we had Bouncey Castle Stonehenge doing a tour of the Olympic sites before the grand opening. Jeremy Deller's bouncy-castle Stonehenge, entitled 'Sacrilege', was in London on an national Olympic tour, the latest in a long line of artistic images of Britain's most famous ancient monument.
A Prehistoric Art Gallery
And only last month (October) Stonehenge was declared as a Prehistoric Art Gallery after the discovery of a further 72 previously unknown Early Bronze Age carvings during a detailed laser-scan survey of the entire monument was been interpreted as indicating that Stonehenge was a huge prehistoric art gallery.
And finally, after all these studies and theories, are we any nearer cracking the mystery of the monument?
The 'No Purpose' Hypothesis
These NEWS snippets suggest that scholars and archaeologists are still struggling to understand the enigma of Stonehenge; what it is and why it was constructed. So in their wisdom they are now moving towards the hypothesis that Stonehenge was built for no real purpose other than something to keep the ancient people occupied.
* * *