It’s all go at the local pile of prehistoric rocks!

Stonehenge rock-art visit

Yes, that shining example of British archaeology we call Stonehenge is in the news a bit lately. The ongoing dig, a GPR survey, and publication of some BBC archive footage , not to mention a new book by Anthony Johnson which solves it all (presumably not the outstanding issues of chronology though). There hasn’t been this much activity at the henge in years! Not since they rebuilt the place in the 50’s. And the 60’s. Must get up there and take some photos; it is still open to the public whilst the dig is ongoing (the public, restricted to the circulatory path, never getting close to the henge itself anyway so not a problem for the excavations presumably).

The BBC footage in particular is great, showing the henge being dismantled and reassembled like a giant airfix model. Just goes to show how much work has been done previously and also how what we see today is rather different from what was there only a century ago. It’s plain to see in old paintings how much the henge has changed. Our view of the stones rarely takes into account all this modern reconstruction, preferring instead to think of the stones as immovable, permanent, deeply rooted in history rather than concrete. This recent history has been researched avidly by Brian Edwards who has published both on Stonehenge and also my favourite henge: Avebury, that fantastic 1930’s reconstruction (oh yes, Avebury too was pretty much rebuilt by Alexander Keiller, the marmalade magnate; there’s an excellent book on Keiller by Linda J Murray).

Getting back to current events, I for one can’t wait to see the results of the geophysics and excavations. Despite much effort over the years, Stonehenge is still largely a mystery and hopefully this programme of works will shed some new light on the chronology and development of the site if not settle the debate about what is was actually for; the A&E ward of the south-west, according to Darvill (quoted in the Guardian). It strikes me that this latest idea being proposed by Wainright and Darvill resonates of modern, alternative uses of the site (and so is bound to be very popular), although they are claiming ancient roots for this belief. The observation regarding the unusual concentration of injured bodies found in the area is also really rather interesting. I’m still thinking in terms of life and death, wood and stone, places for the ancestors and the living with spaces acting as social mediators, but the idea of healing practices forming some kind of link between life and death seems like a plausible starting point for some investigation.