Sunday, 21 September 2014

Some thoughts on the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape based BBC programme

These are some notes that Tim Robey posted on Facebook which I thought well worth posting here:

Some thoughts on news-feeds and the two BBC programmes:

The “Pink” stones from the Mesolithic:

You may have heard that at the “nearby” Mesolithic site excavations have revealed a source of flint which is dyed by the bog water there to a bright pink. This colour would have been very unusual at the time(Still is, on a rock) and may well have been given some magical or supernatural significance by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Fascinating though these are, I really feel that the link to Stonehenge is too tenuous to take seriously. If there had been a direct link, the Henge would have been built next to the source of the stone, not on a hill 3knm away. There are no pieces of pink flint found at the henge, nor even in any of the Mesolithic post-holes found underneath the old car park.

There is also the question of time -  all the Mesolithic activity pre-dates the construction of Stonehenge by 4 – 5 000 years,with not a sign of any activity in the intervening millennia.

No, nice idea but I’m not buying!
The Cursus as a Barrier, a Gateway, and a Solstice  Indicator:

The news is suggesting three different ideas here. The first, put forward as a current popular theory, is that the Cursus was a barrier. I doubt the popularity of the theory for a start, and I find myself asking “A barrier between what and what?” There have to be two entities or spaces that require separating for a barrier to be useful: what are they in this case? It can’t be Stonehenge – the Cursus was built 500 years before even the first phase cemetery on the site; and it can’t be that there was already an existing “zone of the dead” to be cordoned off – if that were so the barrier is completely inadequate, and anyway, the contemporary burial mounds (the Long Barrows) are all located on the edge of or outside the “zone” – indeed the cursus ends at one of them, so can hardly be separating it from anything else.Scratch that idea, too.

The new survey has shown gaps in the side ditches of the Cursus – hence it must have served as a Gateway! This again presupposes two separated areas and simply adds detail to the barrier theory rather than (as suggested on TV) debunking it.

The cursus may be long and narrow, but it is still essentially an enclosure. The space being cordoned off is inside the banks, and the entrances are just that. This was a sacred space in the same way as later henges and probably the earlier causewayed and palisaded enclosures – it was just a different shape for a different purpose, the most likely one being some form of processional rite linked to the Long Barrow at the end of the enclosure.

Then there are the two recently discovered pits, apparently forming site lines to the positions on the horizon of the summer solstice sunrise and sunset. Curiously, the site lines converge on the Heel Stone, not on the Stone Circle itself. They are clearly later than the Cursus, but without excavation it’s anybody’s guess to which phase of Stonehenge they belong. They are too wide for stone-holes but we have no idea how deep they are: are they fairly shallow fire-pits as someone has suggested, or are they shafts like the Wilsford shaft a couple of miles to the South?

Whatever their purpose it is likely (my theory, which is mine!) that they were dug within the Cursus enclosure so that it would provide a clear link between them – curiously there do not appear to be any direct  links between them and Stonehenge itself.Another time, perhaps, when we know more about them.

New Henges in the landscape:

Okay, well, it’s good to have something I can comment positively upon. I’m really pleased that they have found several new henges in the area: I wish I could say I’d been suggesting they must be there for years*,but sadly, I  hadn’t really given it a thought. Still, there they are, evidence that the whole area was used for rituals during the henge building era (+ 2800 – 2100 BC). What we need now are some dates: Do they co-exist with the Stone Circle, or are they earlier and thus superseded by the big temple?

There is also the possibility that these are just a new variant of burial mounds, perhaps with a ring of wooden posts around them &with complex sequences of events – rather like mini versions of the chambered tombs found in Ireland and Scotland.Although the finders are ebullient about them, Mike Pitts is more reserved:

(* Of course, they HAVE been there for years – but that wasn’t what I meant …)

Durrington Walls with stone settings:

Again, I’m very positive about this. For one thing, it finally shuts the coffin lid on Mike P P’s “wood for the living, stone for the dead” theory. Clearly life (and death) required more complex symbolism than that. It was always a dodgy analogy: coming as it did from practices and beliefs in modern Madagascar,and thus separated by 5000 years and even more miles from its application to Neolithic Wiltshire. Still, it’s done a brilliant job of making us all think alot more carefully about the symbolism of the stones. Well done for that, Mike.

And of course it opens up the whole discussion on what exactly WAS going on at Durrington Walls. I think MPP is right in that there has to be a connection between Durrrington and Stonehenge,and that the ceremonies at each were in some way complimentary. He could even still be right about the idea that the dead were given “farewell to life”feasts in their honour at the Walls, before a selected few were processed to be interred at Stonehenge (though I’m not convinced this is the main story, if it’s true at all). But the theory was mostly hung on the stone/timber opposition analogy ad if we lose that, the floor’s clear for anyone again …

The mysterious Welsh skeletons and the Bluestones:

I still need to do some research on this one from 2nd part of the TV documentary: Jackie McKinley mentioned this “family” of stiffs found “near” Stonehenge, dating to the time when the bluestones first arrived,and hailing from the West of England, perhaps from Wales. It would have been useful if we’d been told just WHERE they were excavated (though I expect to find that out fairly soon) but what puzzles me is this sudden knowledge of the date when the bluestones were brought from Wales(I note that, like the location of the burials, the actual date was not specified in the programme).

English Heritage has just produced a very expensive and informative exhibition and a new guidebook neither of which specifies the date– because we don’t know it! They could have arrived when the first bank and ditch were dug – c2950 BC (my money’s on this date) – or they could have been brought in at anytime up until a few months before the Sarsens went up in around 2550BC (we assume they were there by then because we are fairly sure they were put into the Q & R holes, a setting which just pre-dates the erection of the trilithons). It will be very interesting to find out the date of the burials – if indeed they are Welsh – they could well be linked to the elusive bluestone phase.

Comments and arguments welcome …


  1. Sadly this TV programme (including the pink flint) sums up the complete nonsense that is archaeology today. We have new geophysical evidence of activity under the ground - full stop!

    Unless these marks are investigated by excavation - they are meaningless and to construct conclusions based on them is fantasy not science.

    Of the two programmes only one small piece of information that is new and of some use is the 'periglacial lines' in The Avenue which has now been found to extend past Stonehenge Bottom towards the Cursus.

    To some of us (and I have been trying to communicate this to the 'experts' on this site for some time now) it's no surprise or a 'revolutionary find' as it follows the line of the old 'coach and horses' road used since medieval periods in this area .

    Consequently, we don't need to excavate and scientifically confirm this 'discovery' as we have empirical evidence in the form of drawings by Stukeley, which even shows these so called 'periglacial lines' on the surface of The Avenue in the 18th century - closely followed by the cart that made them!

    As for the dating of the moats Tim - I'm sorry to say that I would place them in the same category as the 'periglacial straightens'.


  2. Haven't watched the second program and fell asleep during the first, so I'm probably not the one to be commenting on it