Friday 8 March 2013

Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons

Charred bones ‘show Stonehenge was a cemetery for chiefs’ | The Times £

..Research is revealing that an earlier Stonehenge may have served a quite different purpose.
A scientist says that the stones were in fact a graveyard for members of a prehistoric aristocracy who chose the site on Salisbury Plain because of an “extraordinary cosmological coincidence”.
Mike Parker Pearson, Professor of British Later Prehistory at University College London, has for the first time analysed cremated remains found in pits known as Aubrey Holes that ring the familiar stone circle. His conclusion is that the bones were buried 5,000 years ago beneath the famous Stonehenge bluestones, which originally formed a stone circle far larger than the now familiar monument. His discoveries put the history of Stonehenge back a further 500 years before the giant standing stones we see today were put in place.....

...For most of the past century it was believed that the Aubrey Holes either once held giant wooden posts or were simply pits that were dug and filled in.
Professor Parker Pearson was given permission by English Heritage to exhume the charred bone fragments and analyse them. He uncovered a “50,000-piece prehistoric jigsaw puzzle”.
By counting the number of ear bones, researchers were able to identify the remains of 65 people. He believes these were of members of “elite” families from across Britain, interred at Stonehenge over a period of 200 years.
The theory challenges the previously held belief that the bluestones were brought from the Preseli Hills in West Wales about 4,500 years ago, when the Stonehenge we see today was being erected. In fact, they formed an earlier monument on a site he believes was chosen because of a bizarre natural feature: parallel gullies carved into the chalk hillside by melt water at the end of the last Ice Age. By what he describes as “extraordinary cosmological coincidence” the stripes in the landscape point directly to the spot on the horizon where the Sun rises in midwinter.
Meanwhile, archaeologists from the Stonehenge Riverside Project, led by Professor Parker Pearson, were studying 80,000 animal bones excavated from the site of the largest neolithic settlement in northwest Europe, at Durrington Walls, three miles from Stonehenge.
About 4,500 years ago the encampment was home to 4,000 people at a time when most people lived in settlements of no more than a few dozen.
It was at this time that the giant standing stones, weighing up to 40 tonnes each, were dragged 20 miles from the Marlborough Downs, while the bluestones were relocated to the inner circle. Each monolith was shaped by pounding with round stones, an almost unimaginably arduous task.
By studying isotopes in the enamel of the teeth of cattle and pigs excavated at Durrington Walls, researchers were able to establish that the animals had come from all over Britain. Tests established that most were slaughtered in winter, during a time of what must have been prodigious feasting.
The annual winter feasts occurred for only 45 years, a brief interlude in Stonehenge’s history. Professor Parker Pearson says that the transition coincided with the arrival of a new culture, the Beaker people, who buried their dead instead of cremating them, and a revolutionary new technology, metal working. Although the Beaker people used Stonehenge they were not its builders and within a few generations the stones had fallen out of use......

Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons, a documentary about Professor Parker Pearson’s discoveries, was being broadcast on Channel 4 at 8pm on Sunday March 10 2013


  1. "By what he describes as “extraordinary cosmological coincidence” the stripes in the landscape point directly to the spot on the horizon where the Sun rises in midwinter." - Rises in midsummer, sets in midwinter is actually where they point.

  2. Not a direct quote Tim. So probably a Journalist error. Either that or it was a rushed addition for the press releases.

    Elsewhere in the press, they are interpreting it as debunking claims that Stonehenge was built for astronomy, so it'll be interesting to see what the doco says:

    Stonehenge was Glastonbury of its day but was not built for astronomy