Posts Tagged ‘stonehenge’

Stonehenge as a Recycled Monument

December 7th, 2015 No comments

Excavations at Craig Rhos-y-felinEvery year brings new theories about Stonehenge – some loopy like the one I covered in an earlier blog about the idea that Stonehenge was a platform monument.

But these discoveries in Wales come under the auspices of the respected Mike Parker Pearson.  And while it has long been known that the bluestones came from the Preseli Hills, the idea that there was an earlier monument in Wales, which was re-cycled to form Stonehenge, is a fascinating one.

It comes about from the discrepancy in dates. The Craig Rhos-y-felin bluestones seem to have been extracted around 3400 BC – but not erected in Stonehenge until 500 years later, in 2900 BC. While Wales is some way from the Salisbury plain, it can’t, the theory goes, have taken a full 500 years to transport them. So there may initially have been a Welsh monument using the stones, which was later recycled by the builders of Stonehenge who may have valued their provenance.

The possible method of extraction is also fascinating. “They only had to insert wooden wedges into the cracks between the pillars and then let the Welsh rain do the rest by swelling the wood to ease each pillar off the rock face” said Dr Josh Pollard  of the University of Southampton.

This is all highly speculative. But the investigation of a possible site for the Welsh monument is proceeding apace.  Professor Kate Welham of Bournemouth University thinks the ruins of any dismantled monument are likely to lie somewhere between the two megalith quarries in the Preseli Hills. She said: “We’ve been conducting geophysical surveys, trial excavations and aerial photographic analysis throughout the area and we think we have the most likely spot. The results are very promising – we may find something big in 2016.”

A recent issue of Antiquity has more detail on this

Well at least it gets you out and about early

December 21st, 2012 No comments
IMG_5502 tattoed man lo res

all photos (c) Hugh Thomson


Having complained in an earlier column that most people celebrate the wrong solstice at Stonehenge – i.e. the summer one – when archaeologists think that it was built for the winter solstice, seemed only fair to go along today and see what might be happening. Even if it meant getting up at four in the morning to drive there.


IMG_5528 blowing the horn lo res



The Druids were out in force and drumming up a storm.  So were about 1000 more people, but nothing compared to the summer when you can easily get 30,000. Fewer people come in the winter because usually there’s no sun – but today, despite the recent rains, it dawned beautifully clear.


One celebrant who came every year told me it was the first time she’d ever seen the sun for the solstice dawn.

Made for a great atmosphere.  Chief druid Rollo Maughling (Panama hat, below right) led some ecumenical prayers in which Gaia got the odd mention, as did the war in Syria and – an unexpected left field one – the centenary of the US membership of the IMF (I’m taking him on trust on this one).

IMG_5551 druid smoking cigar waiting for the sun cropped lo res

The odd friendly heckle from the crowd added suggestions for the service – like a spontaneous cheer in the honour of the late Sir Patrick Moore. Or a cry that went up at one point – ‘give him some room, druid coming through’ – when one berobed and bearded sage arrived late after  trouble parking on the A344.

IMG_5564 sunrise in stones lo res cropped


More by accident than design I found myself right by the drummers as they got going and almost got speared in the face by a stray dear’s antler on the back of someone’s mask.


But the moment the sun came up was a moment to melt the ice splinter in any sceptic’s heart:  the stones warmed by the dawn, the music and the celebration.  As the self-styled King Arthur Pendragon, who has spent a lifetime campaigning for more open access to the stones and is now in his 60s, said to the assembled media, ‘one can see the divine in the spirit of the place.’





Read more…

What Laser Scans have revealed at Stonehenge

October 10th, 2012 No 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.


Stonehenge – a national disgrace

July 13th, 2010 1 comment

Stonehenge was given to the nation in 1918.  So far, almost a century later, the nation has done a remarkably bad job at looking after it. 

The situation at the site is currently, as its custodians English Heritage put it, ‘severely compromised’ and as others like leading archaeologist Mike Pitts would say, ‘ an embarrassing, abominable, inexcusable mess’. For decades, plans have been put forward to improve the site and then postponed.

Two main roads not only thunder past but divide the circle of stones from the Avenue that should lead to it.  The findings from Stonehenge are scattered piecemeal between some sixteen different museums and private holdings around the country.  For the almost one million annual visitors drawn there, it can be a dispiriting experience, with the stones themselves fenced off and the current ‘visitor centre’ resembling a British Rail station built in the 1970s.  Overall, it can be a bit like having a picnic in a car park.

Just last week the Government announced that it would no longer help finance the proposed new landscaping and visitor centre which Labour had announced last October. 

On the face of it, this might seem perfectly reasonable.  A saving of £10 million would result.  We all know that cuts have to be made;  the Government claims that Labour committed to projects that were never affordable. Read more…