May 23 2013

Professor Parker Pearson rewrites the history of Stonehenge

Professor Mike Parker Pearson (UCL Institute of Archaeology) has led a team of archaeologists who are rewriting the history of Stonehenge. The first Stonehenge began its life as a huge graveyard with the original monument as a large circular enclosure built 500 years before the Stonehenge we know today. They discovered that second stage of Stonehenge (the iconic sarsen stone circle) was built 200 years earlier than thought, around 2500 BC.

Stonehenge: A Unique Graveyard

Archaeologists have found that the original Stonehenge was a graveyard for a community of elite families built 500 years earlier than the site we know today.

The new discovery has finally solved many of the mysteries surrounding Stonehenge, overturning the accepted view on construction and use of our greatest prehistoric monument. These new findings will be revealed for the first time in a special Channel 4 documentary screened on Sunday night (8pm 10 March).

The British team, which was led by Professor Parker Pearson (UCL Institute of Archaeology), analysed the ancient remains of 63 bodies buried around Stonehenge, finding that the first monument was originally a graveyard for a community of elite families, whose remains were brought to Stonehenge and buried over a period of more than 200 years. Professor Parker Pearson said:

The first Stonehenge began its life as a huge graveyard. The original monument was a large circular enclosure built 500 years before the Stonehenge we know today, with the remains of many of the cremated bodies originally marked by the bluestones of Stonehenge. We have also discovered that the second Stonehenge was built 200 years earlier than thought, around 2500 BC.

By testing cattle teeth from 80,000 animal bones excavated from the Stonehenge complex, the team also found that around 2500 BC it was once the site of vast communal feasts attended by perhaps up to a tenth of the British population, with people coming from as far afield as highland Scotland to celebrate the solstice.

Why did Stonehenge decline?

Once completed, Stonehenge declined after two centuries.  For years, this decline has been a mystery.  But Professor Parker Pearson believes that it is explained by the culture of the ‘Beaker People’, known to have arrived in these isles around this time.  He believes that their greater individualism and new material goods, including the first metal goods seen in Britain, put an end to the communal culture for which the monument had originally been created. Professor Parker Pearson said:

In many ways our findings are rewriting the established story of Stonehenge. What we’ve uncovered is compelling evidence that Stonehenge once united the people of Britain, attracting people from far and wide for Solstice gatherings, but also that the bodies and grave goods found on and around the site also offer an answer to the mystery of Stonehenge’s decline.

Read the full story on the UCL website at ucl.ac.uk.

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