STONEHENGE LATEST NEWS
LASER SCANNING REVEALS ROCK ART AND SHAPING METHODS
Following a detailed laser scan of Stonehenge last year, an analysis has just been published by English Heritage. It reveals many more axe carvings and much new information on how the stones were shaped.
The analysis found 71 new axehead carvings, increasing the number known at Stonehenge to 115. The design of the axeheads belong to a specific period in the Early Bronze Age around 1750-1500BC. This is around a 1000 years after the big sarsen stone circle was erected. Contrary to press reports, Stonehenge was not a huge art gallery - these carvings are found only on four stones.
The scanning has also revealed incredible detail on how the stones were shaped. Some were "pecked" with stone mauls in horizontal lines, others with vertical lines.
The study, just published online by English Heritage and free to download, also provides information on how much damage has been caused by souvenir hunters chipping off bits of stone, or by visitors carving graffiti - including Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of 17th century London!
Download the full report here:
GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY REVEALS NEW HENGE
The discovery of a previously unknown henge monument has been found close to Stonehenge.
Using the latest geophysical imaging techniques, which "see" below the ground without excavation, it is possible to make out a dark circle of interrupted ditch. There are two wider gaps opposite each other - these were entrances to the monument and are aligned on the midwinter sunset and midsummer sunrise - like Stonehenge itself. Inside the ditch it is also possible to discern the slight shadows of 24 postholes encircling the the central area, 25 metres in diameter. Near the centre are more dark areas indicating pits, and a large shadow suggesting that a mound was constructed there, perhaps in a later phase of the monument's use. The henge probably dates to around 2500-3000BC, contemporary with Stonehenge.
History is set to be rewritten after an archaeology team led by the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Austria discovered a major ceremonial monument less than one kilometre away from the iconic Stonehenge.
The incredible find has been hailed by Professor Vince Gaffney, from the University’s IBM Visual and Spatial Technology Centre, as one of the most significant yet for those researching the UK’s most important prehistoric structure.
The new henge was uncovered this week, just two weeks into a three-year international study that forms part of the multi-million Euro international Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project.
The project aims to map 14 square kilometres of the Stonehenge Landscape using the latest geophysical imaging techniques, to recreate visually the iconic prehistoric monument and its surroundings and transform how we understand this unique landscape and its monuments.
“This finding is remarkable,” Professor Gaffney said. “It will completely change the way we think about the landscape around Stonehenge.
“People have tended to think that as Stonehenge reached its peak it was the paramount monument, existing in splendid isolation.
“This discovery is completely new and extremely important in how we understand Stonehenge and its landscape.”
The new “henge-like” Late Neolithic monument is believed to be contemporaneous to Stonehenge and appears to be on the same orientation as the World Heritage Site monument. It comprises a segmented ditch with opposed north-east/south-west entrances that are associated with internal pits that are up to one metre in diameter and could have held a free-standing, timber structure.
The project, which is supported by the landowner, the National Trust, and facilitated by English Heritage, has brought together the most sophisticated geophysics team ever to be engaged in a single archaeological project in Britain.
British partners are the University of Birmingham; the Division of Archaeological, Geographical and Environmental Sciences at the University of Bradford; and the Department of Earth Science at the University of St Andrews. European partners include teams from Austria, Germany, Norway and Sweden.
Professor Gaffney, who this week won the Best Archaeological Book prize at the prestigious British Archaeological Awards for Europe’s Lost World: The Rediscovery of Doggerland, added: “Stonehenge is one of the most studied monuments on Earth but this demonstrates that there is still much more to be found.”
Professor Wolfgang Neubauer, Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute, adds: "This is just the beginning. We will now map this monument using an array of technologies that will allow us to view this new discovery, and the landscape around it, in three dimensions. This marks a new departure for archaeologists and how they investigate the past."
Martin Papworth, of the National Trust, said: “The Hidden Landscapes project is providing cutting edge archaeological survey work that will greatly enhance understanding and improve conservation management for the National Trust on its Stonehenge Estate.”
Dr Christopher Gaffney, of the University of Bradford, comments: “The strategy that we are implementing within this project has provided a first glimpse of new and important information regarding the hidden past at Stonehenge. We aim to cover large areas around Stonehenge and we expect this to be the first of many significant discoveries.”
Dr Amanda Chadburn, Stonehenge archaeologist at English Heritage, said: "This new monument is part of a growing body of evidence which shows how important the summer and winter solstices were to the ancient peoples who built Stonehenge. The discovery is all the more remarkable given how much research there has been in the vicinity of Stonehenge, and emphasises the importance of continuing research within and around the World Heritage Site."
Mr Paul Garwood, prehistorian at the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity at the University of Birmingham, said “This discovery is of great importance for our understanding of the Stonehenge landscape in the 3rd millennium BC. Its location, a short distance from Stonehenge, and the fact that the two monuments were inter-visible, raises exciting new questions about the complex sacred landscape that existed around Stonehenge when the sarsen and bluestone monument was constructed.”
Bluestone henge discovered 2009
In 2009 a major new discovery was made by the Stonehenge Riverside Project in the Stonehenge landscape. Evidence for a second stone circle was found close to the River Avon, linked to Stonehenge itself by the Stonehenge Avenue.
The circle is just under 10m in diameter and was surrounded by a henge – a ditch with an external bank – with an entrance to the east. The henge ditch is 25m in diameter and sits at the end of the 1¾-mile avenue that leads from Stonehenge to the river. Excavations in 2008 established that this outer henge was built around 2400 BC but arrowheads from the stone circle indicate that it is likely to be much earlier, dating to around 3000 BC.
Nine stone holes were identified, part of a circle of probably twenty-five standing stones. Only the northeast quadrant of the circle, and a small past of its west side, were excavated. Six stoneholes (A-F) were found in the northeast quadrant and three (I-K) were found in the western trench. (Stoneholes G and H are putative stone sockets lying between the excavated ones; their positions are extrapolated from the known stones). The centres of Stoneholes A-F are spaced at an average distance of 1.12m from each other. However, Stoneholes J and K are more widely spaced. Given the arrangement and curvature of the known stones, the maximum number of stones in the circle was 25. It may, of course, have contained fewer.
The dimensions of the holes are too wide and too shallow for them to have held wooden posts. The imprints of the stones’ bases and the shapes of the sockets from which they were withdrawn indicate that these were too small to have been sarsens. They compare exactly with the dimensions of the bluestones in the inner oval at Stonehenge. The stones were extracted whole and were not broken up (as was the practice in the Medieval period). As a result, only two bluestone fragments were found, both of spotted dolerite.
The bluestone circle was succeeded by a henge, comprising a circular ditch 23.4m wide with an external bank. Little trace of the henge bank remains except where it was pushed back into the ditch on its north side. A date from the tip of a broken antler pick in its basal fill places its construction within the period 2470-2280 BC. The henge had at least one entrance – this was on its east side where the northern ditch terminal contained a special deposit of antlers, an antler pick, cattle bones and stone and flint tools as well as a burnt organic container.
We found the riverside end of the Stonehenge Avenue (previously only traced to a spot 150m to the north). It consisted of two parallel ditches, 18.1m apart. These formerly held upright posts, forming a small palisade on either side. The Avenue was traced to within a few metres of the henge ditch and presumably terminated at or close to the outer bank of the henge. It and the henge may have been built at the same time given their proximity and symmetrical positioning.
The western arm of the henge’s ditch silted up gradually during the Bronze Age, with silts interspersed with flint cobble surfaces in the ditch bottom. After the ditch had fully silted up, its northeastern quadrant was re-cut. The henge’s interior was also re-used in the Late Bronze Age with the digging of a small penannular ditch which terminated at its northeast in a large timber post. This and two other posts formed a façade or structure within the centre of the henge. A fourth posthole on the west side of the ditch contained tiny fragments of clay metalworking moulds.
The next phase of activity was during the Medieval period, specifically within the 13th century, when a complex series of east-west and north-south ditches were dug and filled. Ditches and pits continued to be dug into the post-Medieval period.
Although there was no evidence for domestic occupation during the Neolithic, the riverside was inhabited during the Mesolithic (8000-4000 BC) and during the Bronze Age (2200-700 BC).
Until radiocarbon dates on antler picks give us firm dates for construction and dismantling of the stone circle, our best dating evidence is from the two arrowheads found in the stonehole packing deposits. These are ‘chisel arrowheads’ which were current between 3400 BC and 2500 BC. They are earlier than the ‘oblique arrowheads’ (2500-2300 BC) and ‘barbed-and-tanged arrowheads’ (2300-1700 BC), styles found at Stonehenge and Durrington Walls.
In 2008, the Stonehenge Riverside Project’s excavation at Stonehenge itself found evidence that the first phase of Stonehenge (3000-2935 BC) consisted of a bluestone circle set inside the ditch and bank. These stone sockets are the 56 Aubrey Holes that form the outermost ring. Around 2500 BC the bluestones were re-arranged in the centre of Stonehenge and numbered about 80 stones. Where did the extra 24 or so stones come from? We think we know the answer!
(Mike Parker Pearson, Josh Pollard, Julian Thomas and Kate Welham; Stonehenge Riverside Project)
STONEHENGE IS A CEMETERY
Just published, in the archaeological journal Antiquity, are two studies arising from recent work by the Stonehenge Riverside Project. The first uses the latest radiocarbon dates from cremation burials - of which there may have been 240 - to suggest that the site served as a cemetery for a ruling dynasty from around 3000BC. For some 600 years members of the growing dynasty were buried in and around the outer ditch and Aubrey Holes - which now seem to be where the bluestones originally stood.
The second study relates to the Stonehenge Cursus, now dated from a radiocarbon date from an antler to the mid 4th Millennium - so it was constructed hundreds of years before the first phase of Stonehenge.
THE STONEHENGE RIVERSIDE PROJECT
Last summer the Stonehenge Riverside Project was excavating at Stonehenge.
The Stonehenge Riverside Project has now completed its seventh year of a ten-year programme. During August-September 2009 there were 50 archaeologists working on site. It is partly funded by the National Geographic.
There were excavations in various locations in the landscape around Stonehenge, each designed to answer a specific question.
The Stonehenge Avenue
A series of trenches were opened along the Avenue. One near the Heel Stone, re-opened a trench dug by Professor Richard Atkinson in 1956. It was not clear from his poorly published accounts whether a series of gulleys parallel to the banks of the Avenue were natural periglacial features or not - perhaps an earlier Avenue. The new trench may also uncover evidence for rows of standing stones along the Avenue's banks. Other trenches have been opened at the 'elbow' of the Avenue, where it swings east; and another at the far end of the Avenue where it meets the River Avon in West Amesbury (on private land).
Aubrey Hole 7
The Project was given a special licence to remove a group of cremated human remains from Aubrey Hole 7, just inside the bank which encircles Stonehenge. The cremations had been excavated from a number of Aubrey Holes by William Hawley in the 1920s, but were reburied (as there were no techniques to study them) in a single hole, Aubrey Hole 7 in 1935. New methods are now available to learn a great deal from the cremated bones. The cremations are required by law to be reburied within two years.
The Stonehenge Cursus
Excavations are now in progress at the east end of the Stonehenge Cursus, a long (3 km) enclosure, dating to around 3,500BC - 500 years older than the first stage of Stonehenge. Here the relationship of the Cursus to a Long Barrow is being investigated. The aerial photograph below shows the eastern half of the Cursus following for part of its length a line of trees.
Stonehenge palisade and Later Neolithic settlement
When the pedestrian underpass was constructed at Stonehenge in the 1960s, the terminal of a ditch, which once held a palisade, was uncovered. Last year geophysical survey traced the line of the palisade to the NE, towards Stonehenge Bottom, and SW onto Stonehenge Down where it branches into an enclosure. Surface scatters of lithics and Peterborough-type pottery indicate the presence of Later Neolithic activity which may derive from a settlement, possibly occupied during the earlier third millennium BC, contemporary with the earlier phases of Stonehenge.
The most charming of this year's discoveries on the Palisade was a small animal carved out of chalk. It's about the size of a matchbox. With its four tiny feet and its pointed nose, it could represent a hedgehog. As it was found close to the skeleton of an infant, it's being suggested that it was a toy. But it's not neolithic: the infant and hedgehog came from an Iron Age pit containing a pot dating to around 450-100BC. So the child who was buried with his/her favourite toy, knew Stonehenge when it was over 2000 years old.
The stone-dressing area outside Stonehenge
An auger survey in March 2008 confirmed that there is a large and dense concentration of sarsen chippings immediately west of the start of the Stonehenge avenue (adjacent to the visitors’ centre). This may have been an area where the Stonehenge sarsens were dressed before erection since pieces of sarsen recovered from coring (and previously observed within molehills) include chips with the outer cortex still remaining (i.e. deriving from the working of previously undressed sarsen stones).
Through excavation of a relatively small area within this sarsen spread, the archaeologists are learning much about how the stone-working was done, how it was organised and whether there are associated structures or working areas.
In the 2006 and 2007 seasons, a fine group of foundations for nine houses were found by the eastern entrance to Durrington Walls, complete with plaster floors, hearths and oval stake settings.
What Else is happening at Stonehenge?
In April 2008, a new excavation began at Stonehenge. Led by Professors Geoffrey Wainwright and Tim Darvill, the trench measured only 2.5 x 3.5 metres, but may answer some key questions about the date and origin of an early phase of Stonehenge - a double bluestone circle. Today you can view the circle of bluestones among the much larger sarsen stones, but early in the third millennium BC, perhaps in the 27th century BC, they were erected in different positions - according to stone-holes found in the 1950s.
The excavations lasted only two weeks, but will be followed by scientific tests on the petrology (mineral composition) of any bluestone fragments recovered. Was the first bluestone circle made from stone brought from the Preseli Mountains in South Wales, 250km away?
Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright have been excavated at the quarry in Wales where the bluestones were extracted. Tim, in his book Stonehenge: Biography of Landscape suggests that the bluestones may have been thought to have healing powers, and people made pilgrimages to Stonehenge just as they do today to Lourdes in France.
BBC Timewatch have been following the project. The new series of Timewatch kicks off with a Stonehenge special on Saturday 27 September at 8.05pm on BBC Two. Follow this link to find out more:
NEW LIDAR ANIMATION OF STONEHENGE
Wessex Archaeology have recently posted an excellent animation of the Stonehenge landscape using a high quality laser scan of the terrain.