A Stonehenge round-up!

As ever, there’s always something happening with Britain’s number one archaeological site, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to give you a round-up on some of the news.

The Feeding Stonehenge Project, based at the University of York, has been busily analysing analysing food residues found on many of the fragments of pottery excavated by the Stonehenge Riverside Project, which explored some of the landscape and monuments associated with Stonehenge between 2004-2009. The team has recently published their findings in the October issue of the journal Antiquity. They found that there were differences in the way pots were used. Pots deposited in residential areas were found to be used for cooking animal products including pork, beef and dairy, whereas pottery from the ceremonial spaces was used predominantly for dairy. These images, taken by Ian when he was a supervisor on the Stonehenge Riverside Project, show a fragment of Grooved Ware pottery (L) and a pit of pig bones (R), deposited after feasting sometime around 2,500 BC. The fragment of pottery is the black shape to the right of the scale and the shallow pit on the right is about one metre diameter.

The research has also found that people were also using different cooking methods, such as roasting, boiling and even barbecuing meat – this was shown by different burn marks on some of the bones found. By studying the isotope residue in cattle bones in more detail, the project has also reported that the cows used in the feasts came from all over Britain, which suggests that there was a high degree of organisation behind the use of both Durrington Walls and Stonehenge. Mike Parker Pearson, Professor of British Later Prehistory at University College London and Director of the Feeding Stonehenge project who also led the excavations at Durrington Walls, said: “This new research has given us a fantastic insight into the organisation of large-scale feasting among the people who built Stonehenge. Animals were brought from all over Britain to be barbecued and cooked in open-air mass gatherings and also to be eaten in more privately organized meals within the many houses at Durrington Walls”. He added, “the special placing of milk pots at the larger ceremonial buildings reveals that certain products had a ritual significance beyond that of nutrition alone. The sharing of food had religious as well as social connotations for promoting unity among Britain’s scattered farming communities in prehistory.” Follow the link to Oxbow Books where you can find details on his new book, out this month Stonehenge: Making sense of a prehistoric mystery. Just £14 and we’re not on commission! If you would rather see a short video of Prof. Parker Pearson describing how Stonehenge developed go here. Although a couple of years old now it is still very useful to catch-up with the history of the monument.

In the news this week has been another project headed by Prof. Parker Pearson, which was touched upon in the video link above. This project has been searching for the source quarries of the bluestones of Stonehenge. This year has seen the multidisciplinary team find what they believe are the quarries for the smaller ‘bluestones’ in the Preseli hills in Wales. Archaeologists have known since the 1920’s that the stones came from the area, but the exact location was not known until now. The bluestones are made of volcanic/igneous rocks, and are typically types called dolerite and rhyolite. Geologists on the team (Dr Richard Bevins of the National Museum Wales and Dr Rob Ixer of UCL/University of Leicester) using identified macroscopic and chemical analysis identified the outcrops of Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin as a sources for the bluestones.

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The photos of Craig Rhos-y-Felin and Bluestone henge are courtesy of Adam Stanford © Aerial-Cam Ltd.

What does this mean for our understanding of Stonehenge? Well, as you might expect, the story is not straightforward. The latest radiocarbon dates from hazelnut shells at the quarry at Craig Rhos-y-Felin gives a date some 500 years earlier than those from Stonehenge and Bluestone henge. What we seem to have stumbled upon is that the bluestones were used for an earlier site and not the Stonehenge/Bluestone henge complex. So it seems that the original use of these stones was probably at an as yet unknown site in Wales. At a later date, possibly up to 500 years later, the stones are removed and then transported to Wiltshire where some are used to create Bluestone henge and the rest are placed in the Aubrey Holes (an outer ring near the ditch) at Stonehenge. The Aubrey Holes have been dated to shortly after 2900 BC – the very beginning of the first stage of Stonehenge. Somewhere between 2620-2480 BC the stones are then removed from Bluestone henge and the Aubrey holes and re-erected in the position we see them today.

We can be sure that we haven’t finished the story of this iconic monument yet, and Prof Parker Pearson and his team are already preparing to go back to Wales to carry on the search for more on the missing site!

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