Secrets of Stonehenge


I’ve just been watching the Time Team special Secrets of Stonehenge; very interesting programme. The theoretical basis regarding stone commemorating the ancestors and the links between Durrington Walls and Stonehenge, linked by the river Avon, have been well discussed in the literature (see Parker Pearson & Ramilisonina. 1998) but it is really good to see how the evidence arising from the Stonehenge Riverside Project fits in to Mike Parker-Pearson’s ideas. Excellent contributions from Mike Pitts regarding the Aubrey Holes and how they are really stone sockets and Josh Pollard on the practices of excarnation and dealing with the dead in prehistory. Putting all the information together, the idea that it was an early farming community who built a bluestone circle to commemorate their ancestors, later becoming the sarsen megalithic structure we see today, certainly changes the established story; English Heritage are going to have to update their guidebooks!

There was also little mention of the recent Darvill and Wainright excavations which appeared on the BBC Timewatch programme other than a rather dismissive comment regarding ‘hospital theories’. As it says on the BBC website: His [Parker Pearson’s] interpretation is at odds with that of Darvill and Wainwright. Stonehenge was not a place for the living, whether sickening or fighting fit. It was a monument for the dead. According to Parker Pearson, “Stonehenge… was built not for the transitory living but for the ancestors whose permanence was materialised in stone.” It must be admitted that the evidence for a prehistoric Lourdes is scant in comparison to the wealth of information amassed by the Stonehenge Riverside Project. And if it were a football match, the dream team of Mike Parker Pearson, Mike Pitts, Julian Thomas, Chris Tilley, Josh Pollard, Colin Richards and Kate Welham certainly outgun Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainright… Of course, they are all well renowned archaeologists as regards Stonehenge and there are always competing theories, that being the nature of academic discourse; I certainly have many of their publications on my shelf for my research on prehistoric landscapes.

Well done Time Team for presenting at least some of the wealth of new information in an accessible and interesting fashion; I’d like to see part two (revenge of the ancestors…?) to complete the story :-)

Other links:

Parker Pearson, M. & Ramilisonina. 1998. Stonehenge for the ancestors: the stones pass on the message. Antiquity 72: 308-26.