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What Laser Scans have revealed at Stonehenge

October 10th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments


ArcHeritage/English Heritage

Revelations about Stonehenge continue apace, with the news that laser scans have revealed 72 previously unknown Early Bronze Age carvings chipped into five of the giant stones.

Moreover many of these carvings are of Bronze Age axes.  The initial response – by among others The Independent, who covered the story – was that ‘the axe-heads – the vast majority of the images – may have been engraved as votive offerings to placate a storm deity and thus protect crops.’

As always, whenever anyone reaches for a ‘ceremonial’ or ritual explanation in archaeology it is wise to be careful.

One should remember that bronzes axes were neither purely functional or military, let alone ceremonial, in Bronze Age culture; they were often used as currency, to be bartered for other goods.  There are many reasons why the symbol of the axe may have had such a great attraction for the builders of Stonehenge: as a symbol of wealth, or of the great clearance of the forests which they were embarking on;  or simply as a potent icon, in the same way that they celebrated horses on their coins and at the White Horse of Uffington.

Very few such Bronze Age depictions of axes have been uncovered elsewhere in Britain;  those few that have were often associated with funerary monuments, which would match with the recent work done on the sacred landscape that surrounds Stonehenge by Mike Pearson Smith (who uncovered a henge at the river Avon nearby).

These are not the first axes to be noticed at Stonehenge. A few can still be made out on the surface without the need for a laser scan, and were listed in the 1950s. But in the past they have always been considered a rather marginal aspect of the site.  This new discovery, showing them there in such quantities, puts them more centre stage.

Those who wish to go straight to source on this fascinating story should read the full report which very helpfully has been put online by English Heritage:  among other details, it also confirms the long-held suspicion that many of the stones have been removed over the years.  Rather than being an unfinished site – as many have suggested since the very first investigations of the 18th century – it is a vandalised site.

Those who think the only good thing ever to happen to Stonehenge was to be in Spinal Tap might instead enjoy the Daily Mash’s Experts close to discovering secret pointlessness of Stonehenge.


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