Sunday 30 December 2012

Three Chronological Models for Stonehenge

The new Stonehenge chronological modelling gives three possible models for the construction stages:

Order of construction

The radiocarbon evidence from the models for the stone settings provides a most likely order for the all of the dated constructional events of:

Model 1 

Sarsen Circle > Stonehole E > Sarsen Trilithons > Beaker burial > Bluestone Circle > Bluestone Horseshoe > Z Holes > Y Holes.
The probability of this is though only 27%.

Model 2 

Stonehole E > Sarsen Trilithons > Beaker burial > Bluestone Circle > Bluestone Horseshoe > Z Holes > Y Holes.
The probability of this is only 31%.

Model 3 

Sarsen Circle > Stonehole E > Sarsen Trilithons > Beaker burial > pit_WA_2448 > Bluestone Circle > Bluestone Horseshoe > Z Holes > Y Holes.
The probability of this is though only 13%.

All three chronological models for the stone settings at Stonehenge presented above have produced stable model outputs with the prior beliefs they contain being compatible with the available radiocarbon dates. Thus, although the statistical models have allowed us to combine different types of information, we ultimately still need to use archaeological judgement to decide between them.
The models are all based on the belief that the major settings are the product of single (relatively quick) unitary episode of activity rather than the result of longer and more piecemeal episodes of construction (Bayliss et al 2007b, 46). Given the limited number of samples available at present such an assumption remains the only pragmatic way of modelling the chronology. Sensitivity analyses have highlighted the key component of these models that determines the differences in the monuments chronology is the relationship between the Sarsen Circle and Trilithons. The choice of a preferred model is therefore at present a simple matter of archaeological interpretation, and without further excavation to provide more samples associated with the major constructional events (for example the Sarsen Circle), reaching agreement is likely to be some way off.
Model 3 is our preference for the chronology of the monument because it incorporates what we believe to be the most reliable reading of the stratigraphy of the stone settings (Darvill and Wainwright 2009, Darvill et al 2012; Parker Pearson et al 2007, 2009).


Stonehole E is by the Slaughter Stone.

Pit WA 2448 is the large hole that was dug by the Great Trilithon that was identified by Atkinson as the erection ramp, an idea that Mike Parker Pearson et al dismissed:

The probabilities only add up to 71% which indicates there is still a large amount of uncertainty in the results.

Stonehenge Chronological Modelling Paper

The paper with the scientific details for the recent Antiquity paper on the chronology of Stonehenge has been released:

1/2012 - Stonehenge, Amesbury, Wiltshire: Chronological Modelling

Report Number: 1/2012
Series: Research Department Reports
Pages: 68


This report contains details of all the radiocarbon determinations obtained on samples dated from Stonehenge up to the end of 2011. A series of chronological models based on different readings of the archaeology are presented for the monument as a way of exploring how these interpretations influence our understanding of its chronology.


Darvill , T , Marshall , P , Parker Pearson , M , Wainwright , G


Radiocarbon Dating

Download Report File(s)

Download FileStonehenge, Amesbury, Wiltshire: Chronological Modelling
File size: 1 mb

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Stonehenge Accounts 1906

A snippet from Vol XXXIV of the WAHM - Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine - 1906

Stonehenge. An article on “The Case of Attorney-General v. Antrobus” in Evening Standard, reprinted in Wiltshire Advertiser, April 27th, 1906, praises Sir Edmund Antrobus’s efforts for the preservation of the monument. It states that up to January 1st, 1905, £980 had been taken at the gate, and £960 had been expended on the care of the stones and the payment of caretakers.

Presumably that is since he started charging in 1901at a shilling a head not just in 1904. Not much profit in those days....

Monday 24 December 2012

Stonehenge Midwinter Solstice Sunrise Alignments - The Evidence

Stonehenge Winter Solstice 2012 provided an opportunity to test my theory that the Great Trilithon is deliberately skewed in relation to the rest of the trilithon horseshoe. That not only does the central gap allow the midwinter sunset / midsummer sunrise to shine through but also the angle of the whole trilithon aligns to the midwinter sunrise / midsummer sunset.

The summer solstice this year was too cloudy to observe the sunset but the winter solstice sunrise was unusually clear. I positioned myself behind Station Stone 93 and waited.

Success! Click any photo to enlarge. 
The sun rose as expected behind Stone 10 in line with the Great Trilithon alignment.

Checking my position in the light I was probably about 50cm too far south, but I was competing with other photographers on a very busy morning for the shots.

As Clive Ruggles writes in Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 92: Science and Stonehenge - edited by Barry Cunliffe & Colin Renfrew 1997: "In the literature on archaeoastronomy, declinations are often quoted to a precision of 0.1 or even greater. However, the quality of the material evidence, together with the fact that the horizon around Stonehenge is relatively close (Cleal et al. 1995, 37) and devoid of prominent distant features interpretable as accurate foresights, do not justify considerations of declination to a precision much greater than the nearest degree, or approximately twice the apparent diameter of the sun or moon. To do otherwise is to risk obscuring any intentional, low-level astronomical effects with meaningless detail."

To within that accuracy and bearing in mind that Stone 56 was re-erected in 1901 by Gowland and so may be an inch or two out of its original position I am happy to state as a fact that the alignment I theorised actually is there.

A further complication is that the position of the sunrise now is different to where it was 4500 years ago. My colleague Simon Banton has been working on a different Midwinter Sunrise alignment. It is through a notch in  Stone 58. He has calculated the original sunrise position and his alignment shows remarkable accuracy. For more please see his blog

This is his alignment:

I have mapped his alignment and mine below. His is the top one, that also travels down the length of the Altar Stone.  I'm happy they are similar and accurate enough to be accepted as evidence.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Darvill and the Stonehenge Stone Sources

A new report on the Antiquity paper on the dates of Stonehenge.
And Did Those Feet: New Stonehenge dates
Tim Darvill, co-author of the paper, said that previous sequences suggested that Stonehenge started small and grew: in fact, ‘it starts big and stays big’, and the giant sandstone horseshoe came first, drawing stone from nearby quarries; only then were the smaller bluestones imported from Wales: ‘they sort out the local stuff first, and then they bring in the stones from Wales to add to the complexity of the structure’, Tim said. The new timeline ‘connects everything together, gives us a good sequence of events and it gives us a set of cultural associations with the different stages of construction’, he added.'
My reading of the paper - Antiquity Vol 86:334, 2012 pp 1021-1040 - Timothy Darvill and others - Stonehenge remodelled - doesn't give me that certainty that the bluestones arrived after the sarsens. I think it still embraces the possibility that the bluestones were on site before the sarsens, it specifically mentions that Bluestonehenge might predate the sarsen arrival and that the Aubrey holes probably held stones (type unspecified).

Of course Tim Darvill may not be being quoted accurately. I also don't like the use of the word "quarries" for the source of the sarsens. It implies they were dug out of the ground locally to Stonehenge and there is no evidence for that. No local quarries have every been found. Large sarsens are still found on the surface of the chalk downlands and deep in the clays of Bedfordshire and further afield. In the absence of any other evidence the use of surface sarsens mainly from the Marlborough Downs is the most justifiable theory.

Saturday 15 December 2012

Stonehenge Winter Solstice 2012 - Conditions of Entry

English Heritage will once again allow people access to Stonehenge for the celebration of the Winter Solstice, the first day of the winter season. Sunrise is at 8.09am on Friday 21 December and visitors will be able to access the monument as soon as it is light enough to do so safely. Entrance is free and will be available from roughly 7.30am until 9am, when the site will close - before re-opening as per usual to paying visitors at 9.30am.

The exact time of the Solstice this year, when the Earth’s axial tilt is farthest away from the sun, is at 11.11am on 21 December, however it is generally accepted that the celebration of this special event takes place at dawn and therefore access is permitted at Stonehenge earlier that morning.

  • When thinking about what to bring with you, remember your personal possessions are your responsibility and you will have to carry them with you at all times. Therefore, travel as light as you can. Large bags or large rucksacks will not be allowed at the Monument although small bags and rucksacks (similar size to hand luggage on airlines) will be permitted.
  • Think carefully about what valuables you normally carry and leave all non-essential items at home. Whilst there is a lost property system, the nature of the access means that if you drop/mislay something at Stonehenge it might not be easily found or handed in. If you are bringing your mobile phone with you please keep it safe. Think of the hassle you would have if you lost it, or it was stolen.
  • Glass is not allowed at the Monument as many people walk barefoot and, in addition, livestock and wildlife also graze in the area. If you bring any glass items with you, they will be confiscated. This also includes any other objects that could cause damage to the Monument or people there. No plastic bottles will be available for decanting purposes.
  • Please do not bring dogs, pets or other creatures – they are not permitted into Stonehenge, with the exception of registered assistance dogs. Apart from potentially upsetting wildlife and stock in the area, animal faeces present a health risk to children and also to people walking barefoot.
  • Due to the large number of people in attendance, naked flame is extremely dangerous and it infringes local bylaws/regulations and constitutes a potential fire hazard, so please do not light any fires – this includes BBQs, flaming torches, candles, night-lights, Chinese lanterns or fireworks.
  • Stonehenge is a world renowned historic Monument and it is seen by many who attend the access as a sacred site. Amplified Music is inappropriate and will not be permitted at the Monument or in the surrounding landscape so please do not bring any sound systems or portable amplifiers. Acoustic instruments will be permitted.
  • Drunken, disorderly, and anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated; ejection, possibly by the Police without return, will be the outcome.
  • Illegal drugs are still illegal at Stonehenge as they are anywhere else. The police will be on site during the access period and will take immediate action against anyone flouting the law.
  • Do not climb or stand on any of the stones – this includes the stones that have fallen. This is in the interest of personal safety, the protection of this special site and respect for those attending. As well as putting the stones themselves at risk, climbing on them can damage the delicate lichens. 
  • In order to ensure personal safety, random searching may be undertaken, but we hope that self-policing and personal responsibility will prevail. Any items that might be used in an illegal or offensive manner will be confiscated.
  • Saturday 8 December 2012

    EH - Stonehenge Visitor Centre News - Dec 2012

    English HeritAge


    December 2012

    As Stonehenge gears up for winter, we wanted to let you know we're making good progress with the new visitor centre at Airman's Corner. This time next year, work will have been completed and we'll be busy preparing for the opening.
    As you can see from the photo below, the visitor centre and the car park are  taking shape behind the hoardings. The building should be water-tight by Christmas and a 'bird cage' scaffold will be used in the New Year to help install the delicate canopy roof.
    Aerial view of Airman's Corner
    Aerial view of Airman's Corner
    We've taken great care with the design and construction of the building - disruption to the ground has been kept to a minimum and we have used locally sourced materials wherever possible. 
    The new visitor centre taking shape
    The new visitor centre taking shape

    At Last, a Proper Place to Tell Stonehenge's Story

    A visit to the stones will, for the first time, be enhanced by special exhibition galleries curated by English Heritage experts which will tell the story of Stonehenge and its relationship with the wider landscape. They will feature important objects excavated near Stonehenge kindly loaned by the Wiltshire Heritage Museum and the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.
    Curators discussing the objects on loan from the two local museums
    Curators discussing the objects on loan from the two local museums

    Neolithic Builders Needed

    One exciting feature of the outdoor gallery is the reconstruction of three Neolithic houses based on rare evidence of buildings unearthed near Stonehenge. We need volunteers to help us build three prototype houses at Old Sarum Castle in spring 2013 and then build the actual houses at the new visitor centre in autumn 2013. To find out more or to register your interest, please go to Stonehenge volunteering.
    An attempt at reconstructing a Neolithic house in East Sussex
    An attempt at reconstructing a Neolithic house in East Sussex

    Business As Usual at Stonehenge

    The construction work is not visible from Stonehenge at all; throughout the construction period Stonehenge will continue to welcome visitors at its existing facilities.

    An opening date for the new visitor building will be announced in 2013, and the switch-over to the new facilities will be overnight so that there will be no disruption to visitors.
    When the new visitor centre and its captivating galleries open in winter 2013, we will start dismantling the existing facilities and restore the landscape around the stones. We look forward to keeping you posted as these exciting developments progress.
    Computer-generated image of the new visitor centre when completed
    Computer-generated image of the new visitor centre when completed

    Road Improvements

    We understand the closure of the A344 has raised some concerns - it's a vital change to help create a more tranquil and dignified setting for Stonehenge, but we are working hard to mitigate the impact. The Highways Agency is carrying out works to improve the capacity of Longbarrow Roundabout to cope with the diverted traffic (see details below) and the section of the A344 between Stonehenge Bottom and Byway 12 will only close when these improvements are complete in May 2013. The rest of the road will remain open until we move operations to Airman's Corner.
    Work is also underway to improve the Airman's Corner roundabout. During the construction, we're keeping the use of traffic lights to a minimum but some are needed to ensure safe traffic flow.

    Longbarrow Roundabout Roadworks (A303/A360 Junction)

    The Highways Agency has started a six-month scheme to improve the Longbarrow roundabout at the junction of the A360 and A303. The proposed improvements to the northern and eastern approaches to the roundabout will accommodate changes in traffic flows following the planned A344 closure in May 2013. New lanes will be added to the roundabout to take the extra traffic caused by the closure of the A344 and the centre of the roundabout itself will be realigned.
    During the works, there will be lane closures on the northern and eastern approaches to Longbarrow roundabout and a temporary 40mph speed limit in place. The A360 south of Longbarrow will be closed for up to eight days and nights on dates to be confirmed in either February or March 2013. Diversion routes will be in operation using the A345 or the A36 depending on journey destinations.

    If you have any questions regarding the project please email English Heritage at

    Stonehenge Chronology - The Video has a brilliant animation of the new chronological stages of Stonehenge.

    Friday 7 December 2012

    The Chronology of Stonehenge - Comparison Table

    Antiquity magazine has a new article on the Chronology of Stonehenge

    Volume: 86 Number: 334 Page: 1021–1040
    Stonehenge remodelledTimothy Darvill, Peter Marshall, Mike Parker Pearson and Geoff Wainwright
    It is a much better article than the Press Releases suggest. I highly recommend it.

    To quote:

    In developing a new sequence, we rejected the idea of neat architectural phases, in favour of five main periods or ‘stages’, each of which embraces a set of activities related to a more or less coherent pattern of archaeological evidence. Dating each stage, of varying duration, involves dating the events and activities assigned to it. This entails a consideration of vertical and horizontal stratigraphy, associated finds, and synchronisms established through the dating of particular items, deposits and horizons.  Naturally, some components can be assigned more confidently to a particular stage than others, and we have tried to make this explicit. Here attention focuses only on the evidence relating to the third and early second millennia cal BC.We retain all existing naming, numbering, and lettering of stones and cut features such as stoneholes, so that the revised sequence is easily comparable to all previous (and subsequent) literature.

     I thought it worthwhile to provide a table to facilitate that comparison.

    Darvill et al 2012
    Darvill et al 2012
    Atkinson 1979
    Atkinson 1979
    Cleal et al 1995
    Construction of a circular earthwork enclosure 110m in diameter bounded
    by a bank and ditch with main access on the NE and smaller entrance to
    the S (3000–2920 cal BC). Deposition of ancestral tokens in the base of
    the ditch. Digging of 56 Aubrey holes around the inner edge of bank,
    possibly to hold bluestones and/or posts. Cremation burials begin to be
    inserted into the ditch, bank, and Aubrey holes. Pits dug in the central
    area. Timber posts and stakes set up, in some cases forming simple
    rectangular structures. Possibly in this stage (or earlier) a post-built
    structure in the NE entrance; stones B, C and 97 outside the NE entrance.

    3000–2620 cal BC

    Construction of the bank, ditch, and Aubrey holes. Erection of the Heel
    stone, stones D and E, and the timber structure at A. Inception and use
    of the cremation cemetery. Station stones perhaps erected near the end
    of this period.
    2800–2100 BC
    Bank and ditch
    construction; Aubrey
    holes supporting timber
    settings; primary backfill
    in the ditch
    2950–2900 cal BC
    Trilithon horseshoe comprising five sarsen trilithons set up in the centre of
    the site with SW–NE solstitial axis (midwinter sunset/midsummer
    sunrise). Double bluestone circle of between 50 and 80 bluestones set up
    outside the trilithon horseshoe with a shared SW–NE axis. Sarsen circle
    comprising 30 shaped uprights linked by 30 lintels built outside the
    double bluestone circle. Altar stone perhaps placed within the trilithon
    horseshoe. Four Station stones. A D-shaped rammed chalk floor
    (?structure) around stone 92 at the SE entrance superceded by the south
    barrow. Stones B and C removed. Stone 95 (Slaughter stone) erected with
    stones D and E added inside the NE entrance. Possible modifications to
    the earthworks in the NE entrance. Cremations continue to be deposited
    through to c. 2400 cal BC. EITHER stone 96 (Heel stone) added to the
    existing stone 97 outside the NE entrance to form a pair fixing the solstice
    axis OR the stone formerly in stonehole 97 removed and re-erected as
    stone 96 (Heel stone). Ditch dug around the Heel stone (or early Stage 3).

    2620–2480 cal BC

    Widening of the entrance causeway and transfer of stones D and E to
    holes B and C. Digging and filling of the Heel stone ditch.
    Construction of the first part of the Avenue. Erection of the double
    bluestone circle in the Q and R holes, unfinished.
    2100–2000 BC
    Timber settings in the interior,
    including the
    southern passage
    Natural filling of the ditch;
    deposition of cremations
    in bank and ditch fill;
    timber settings in the
    Aubrey holes dismantled;
    cremations in the top of
    Aubrey holes
    2900–2400 cal BC
    Bluestones (perhaps from Bluestonehenge) arranged as the central bluestone
    circle within the trilithon horseshoe. Main ditch recut. Stones D and E in
    the NE entrance removed. Avenue constructed to link Stonehenge to the
    henge built around the former Bluestonehenge beside the River Avon
    2.8km away. Large pit dug against great trilithon. Beaker-style inhumation
    burial in ditch
    2480–2280 cal BC

    IIIa Dismantling of the double bluestone circle. Erection of the trilithon
    horseshoe, sarsen circle, and the Slaughter stone and its companion.
    Carvings made after erection.
    2000 BC
    IIIb Tooling and erection of stones of the dressed bluestone setting. At the
    end, digging and abandonment, unfinished, of the Y and Z holes.
    2000–1550 BC
    IIIc Dismantling of the dressed bluestone structure. Re-erection of all the
    bluestones in the present bluestone circle and bluestone horseshoe.
    1550–1100 BC
    2000 - 1100 BC
    Arrival of the bluestones from south-west Wales
    3i Double bluestone
    circle (Q and R
    3a Stones: 97, Heel stone, and
    station stones; topmost
    fill of ditch forms;
    cremations continue

    Central bluestone circle and double bluestone circle dismantled and re-built
    as bluestone oval of c. 25 monoliths inside the trilithon horseshoe and the
    outer bluestone circle of between 40 and 60 monoliths in the space
    between the trilithon horseshoe and the sarsen circle.

    2280–2020 cal BC

    Extension of the Avenue from Stonehenge Bottom to West Amesbury
    1100 BC

    Arrival of sarsens from Wessex Downlands
    3ii Sarsen circle and
    sarsen trilithon
    3b Heel stone ditch dug;
    north and south barrow
    ditches dug; stones D, E,
    and Slaughter stone
    2550–1600 cal BC
    3iii Bluestone settling
    with lintels
    Extensive use of Stonehenge with working of some bluestones into artefacts.
    Working floor and occupation outside the earthwork on the NW side.
    Rock-art including Arreton-stage axes and daggers applied (c. 1650–1500
    cal BC) to stones forming the sarsen circle and trilithon horseshoe.
    Construction of the Y and Z holes in the period 1630–1520 cal BC.
    Numerous round barrow cemeteries built in the surrounding landscape.

    2020–1520 cal BC

    Possibly some deliberate destruction of the stones.
    AD 50–400
    3iv Bluestone circle
    and bluestone
    3c Avenue constructed; stones
    B and C raised; Beaker
    burial in ditch
    3v Bluestone
    3vi Y and Z holes

    Thursday 6 December 2012

    Antiquity Articles on The Chronology of Stonehenge

    Mike Pitts reported, and I reblogged, that Antiquity magazine has a new article on the Chronology of Stonehenge.

    It is behind a paywall so we have had to rely on the Press Releases to what it actually says. But Brian John has an excellent article on the article which details its claims. To say he is unimpressed with the accuracy of the Press Releases compared to the actual article and to the "newness" of the discoveries is probably accurate.

    I thought it worthwhile to provide links to two previous Antiquity articles, which are fully available, which cover similar ground.  Both are well worth reading, but especially The Age of Stonehenge in relation to the knotty question as to the chronology. (It is also indispensable for discussing my winter solstice sunrise alignment theory of the Great Trilithon as it clearly shows the construction of it and how 56 was re-erected by Gowland in its original place.)

    The Age of Stonehenge

    Mike Parker Pearson, Ros Cleal, Josh Pollard, Colin Richards, Julian Thomas, Chris Tilley, Kate Welham, Andrew Chamberlain, Carolyn Chenery, Jane Evans, Janet Montgomery & Mike Richards

    2007 The age of Stonehenge. Antiquity 81: 617–39.

    Who was buried at Stonehenge?

    Parker Pearson, M. and Chamberlain, A. and Jay, M. and Marshall, P. and Pollard, J. and Richards, C. and

    Thomas, J. and Tilley, C. and Welham, K. (2009) ’Who was buried at Stonehenge ?’, Antiquity., 83 (319). pp. 23-39.

    Tuesday 4 December 2012

    When Did The Bluestones Arrive at Stonehenge

    Stonehenge: New Study Challenges Timeline For Construction Of Ancient Monument

    Ancient people probably assembled the massive sandstone horseshoe at Stonehenge more than 4,600 years ago, while the smaller bluestones were imported from Wales later, a new study suggests.

    The conclusion, detailed in the December issue of the journal Antiquity, challenges earlier timelines that proposed the smaller stones were raised first.

    "The sequence proposed for the site is really the wrong way around," said study co-author Timothy Darvill, an archaeologist at Bournemouth University in England. "The original idea that it starts small and gets bigger is wrong. It starts big and stays big. The new scheme puts the big stones at the center at the site as the first stage."...

    Though only some of the stones remain, at the center of the site once sat an oval of bluestones, or igneous rocks (those formed from magma) that turn a bluish hue when wet or freshly cut. Surrounding the bluestones are five giant sandstone megaliths called trilithons, or two vertical standing slabs capped by a horizontal stone, arranged in the shape of a horseshoe.

    Around the horseshoe, ancient builders erected a circular ring of bluestones. The sandstone boulders, or sarsens, can weigh up to 40 tons (36,287 kilograms), while the much smaller bluestones weigh a mere 4 tons (3,628 kg). ...

    Like past researchers, the team believes that ancient people first used the site 5,000 years ago, when they dug a circular ditch and mound, or henge, about 361 feet (110 meters) in diameter.

    But the new analysis suggests around 2600 B.C. the Neolithic people built the giant sandstone horseshoe, drawing the stone from nearby quarries. Only then did builders arrange the much smaller bluestones, which were probably imported from Wales. Those bluestones were then rearranged at various positions throughout the site over the next millennium, Darvill said.

    "They sort out the local stuff first, and then they bring in the stones from Wales to add to the complexity of the structure," Darvill told LiveScience

    From the sheer engineering point of view I thought the consensus has always been the big five trilithons first, then the sarsen ring and then infill with Bluestones. It is hard to see how they could have erected the big stones if they had to work round the Welsh stones. So I see nothing new there. But what is new is the idea that the Bluestones were not onsite or had not been used at Stonehenge before. Not in the QR holes nor in the Aubrey holes, nowhere.

    Without access to the paper I don't know what they base this idea on.

    Gowland's report from 1901 describes in detail the stones found when he dug round Stone 56 and under 55. He found Bluestone chippings at depth in all the holes, suggesting that the stones were erected when there was Bluestone debitage on the surface.  This would support the idea that the Bluestones arrived before the Sarsens and had been used and worked before they were removed from their holes to allow the erection of the Sarsens and the remodelling of Stonehenge and then put back in their present positions, plus or minus some further fine tuning.