Monday, 8 February 2016

The Astronomical Significance of the Cremation remains at Stonehenge

Mike Pitts makes a very valid point about the position of the cremation remains at Stonehenge; "If you read anything that suggests there is some kind of astronomical significance in the location of things found under the bank, you need to bear this in mind – what we’re seeing could easily be just where archaeologists have dug."

As the author of a paper that claims that there might be some such significance I feel it is worth expanding on my reasoning.


This is the map of the known cremation burials at Stonehenge. I have added a blue line which is in line with the Great Trilithon and is aligned to the Winter Solstice Sunrise (The Winter Solstice Sunset is the acknowledged solstitial alignment and is towards the south west.)

My paper was about the Great Trilithon being twisted from its "expected" position and that this twist then aligns it with the Winter Solstice Sunrise. With regards to the cremation burials it says: "There is also a cluster of cremation burials on this alignment. Because of the uneven past excavations and recordings of them we cannot be sure that cremation remains were not missed in the excavated parts of Stonehenge, and of course we know nothing of what lies buried in the unexcavated part. So while the cluster may be significant there must be some caution applied. "

I plotted the known cremation burials which aren't in Aubrey Holes to highlight this cluster. (I ignored the one in the Sarsen circle - identified as 2125 - as there is some doubt as to whether it is of animal or human remains.)

As Mike is I'm cautious in claiming any significance in the cluster in itself. But it is part of a pattern.

Firstly is the cluster real? The excavations were not of modern standards and in the area excavated more than one cremation was probably missed. Obviously we know nothing of what is under the unexcavated turf but in the excavated area the null hypothesis would be that there is an even sampling of the cremations present, meaning if Hawley missed, say, one out of four cremations then the cluster is real and actually had more cremations in it. It is not certain but that is the most probable scenario.

Does the cluster prove an astronomical alignment? No, not on its own. But the case is built up from multiple circumstantial clues. None in themselves prove it but combined together they provide a strong case. Evidence can either be supportive, or not or neutral. Weighting the supportiveness and significance is not a precise science, so read the paper and judge for yourself.

Monogamy at Stonehenge

I may be sceptical that the recent analysis of the cremation remains at Stonehenge with their near 1:1 male:female ratio indicates that the ancients were modern in their attitude to sexual equality - http://www.sarsen.org/2016/02/gender-equality-at-stonehenge.html - it would be lovely if they had been as caring and sharing as we are but I find the idea unproven.

What we can probably more certainly deduce is that is likely that the society was as monogamous as ours. We are so used to living in one that we forget that monogamy is not the default societal pattern.


"According to anthropologists, only 1 in 6 societies enforces monogamy as a rule."


"...of the 1,231 cultures in the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, 84.6 percent are classified as polygynous, 15.1 percent as monogamous, and 0.3 percent as polyandrous."

But what has that got to do with the ratio of bones?

We can be fairly sure that the people who were honoured with burial at Stonehenge were not a complete cross section of society - there simply aren't enough of them. We can think of them as being the 1% of the time.

Some Roman tombs, and others, have an imbalance of sex ratio in favour of men (Gender, Manumission, and the Roman Freedwoman By Matthew J. Perry) because they contain slaves. In Ancient Nubia it is found that tombs contain more females maybe because of polygamy (Studien Zum Antiken Sudan: Akten Der 7. By Steffen Wenig).

I think the latter model is more important here, as I don't believe that these are the burials of a slave class. If the elite of a society are being buried in gender equality it suggest that the elite is also composed of equal numbers of men and women. Put aside any hope we have that such ratio is a result of equal opportunities and attainment; there is no society yet that has achieved that. The most credible conclusion is that the elite consisted of monogamous couples, and that maybe monogamy isn't a construct brought to our shores by Romans and Christians.

Mike Parker Pearson CBA lecture on Stonehenge




Published on Feb 2, 2016
Eminent archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson gives the Council for British Archaeology's 37th annual Beatrice de Cardi lecture on the Stonehenge landscape.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Gender Equality at Stonehenge

A new study of prehistoric bones discovered at Stonehenge has found around half belonged to women.
In 2008 archaeologists first explored the site in Wiltshire examining the cremated remains of some 200 adults.
Researchers said their findings showed a "surprising degree of gender equality" despite artists portraying prehistoric man as in charge of the site "with barely a woman in sight".
The study showed the findings are important because burial at Stonehenge was likely to have been reserved for selected people of higher status.
(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-35461309)




A new study of mediaeval tombs at Farleigh Hungerford Castle has found around half belonged to women.
In 2008 archaeologists first explored the site in Wiltshire examining the tombs of some half a dozen adults.
Researchers said their findings showed a "surprising degree of gender equality" despite artists portraying mediaeval man as in charge of the site "with barely a woman in sight".
The study showed the findings are important because burial at Farleigh Hungerfod Castle was likely to have been reserved for selected people of higher status.
(Not a real news story but a gentle reminder that equality in death doesn't necessarily equal equality in life).

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Plan of Cremations at Stonehenge

A quick note about the Stonehenge cremated remains that are in the news today - it is worth remembering when looking at plans of where the cremations were found that firstly in the areas that were excavated cremations were missed or not recorded, and secondly that much of Stonehenge has not been excavated and we simply don't know what is in those areas.
This is a very quick and rough merge of plans showing where has been excavated (in yellow) and where cremations (red dots) have been found.

Child Cremations at Stonehenge


https://mikepitts.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/stonehenge-not-just-a-man-thing/ reports on the latest analysis of the cremation remains examined from the excavations by Hawley at Stonehenge.

One note is: "found relatively very few children buried at Stonehenge compared to remains from long barrows – and even those we can see are probably an exaggeration of the relative quantities, as smaller younger bones will have survived the cremation and mixing better than larger adult bones, and thus be easier to spot."

This extract from Hawley's Fifth Report of his excavations (Season 1923) suggests that the remains that were recovered from his excavations may have missed a lot of children, because it sounds like he didn't collect their cremation remains.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Stonehenge Research Reports Interactive Map

Historic England have brought together 20 research reports on Stonehenge using a new interactive map of Stonehenge.

"These reports represent an up-to-date synthesis of this iconic monument and surrounding area; the results of several years' fieldwork and research.
The reports provide accurate, detailed information on the location, surviving shape and size of the monuments in the World Heritage Site; from the prehistoric barrows to the more recent monuments, such as the early 20th-century Air Ministry markers."