In response to requests from teachers, we have developed a new prehistory workshop based on the monuments around Stonehenge.
As you’ll know, Stonehenge didn’t exist in splendid isolation but was part of an extraordinary complex of monuments ranging in size from just a few posts in the ground to a ‘super-henge’ 500m in diameter. This workshop introduces Key Stage 2 children to some of the key monuments including Stonehenge itself.
Among the monuments we explore are Durrington Walls, the Greater Cursus and Amesbury 42 long barrow. These date to the Neolithic period and I was fortunate to be part of the team that excavated them as part of the Stonehenge Riverside project between 2004-2009.
Stonehenge Riverside Project
The Stonehenge Riverside Project was a major research project in the Stonehenge area, partly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and was a collaboration between several Universities including Sheffield, Manchester and Bournemouth.
The project revealed a great deal of new information about the monuments around Stonehenge, and that the monument itself was part of a larger ritual centre. Not only that but at nearby Durrington Walls the team unearthed a settlement that once housed possibly hundreds of people. Archaeologists believe the houses were constructed and occupied by the builders of nearby Stonehenge, as the houses were radiocarbon dated to 2600-2500 B.C., the same period Stonehenge was built – one of the facts that leads the archaeologists to conclude that people who lived in the Durrington Walls houses were responsible for constructing Stonehenge. The houses form the largest Neolithic or New Stone Age village ever found in Britain – so far!
The discoveries, including a new henge close to the River Avon at the end of a feature called the Stonehenge Avenue, helped to confirm one of the theories about Stonehenge – that it did not stand in isolation but was part of a much larger religious complex used for funerary ritual. One of the directors of the project, Professor Parker Pearson of UCL, believes that Stonehenge and Durrington Walls were connected both symbolically and literally. He said: “Durrington’s purpose was to celebrate life and deposit the dead in the river for transport to the afterlife, while Stonehenge was a memorial and even final resting place for some of the dead.”
Durrington Walls is one of the the world’s largest known henges – it is an enclosure with a bank outside it and a ditch inside. It is so large in fact that two ‘modern’ roads run through it. Archaeologists have long thought that Durrington walls was a ceremonial centre. It is some 500 metres across and within it’s banks were a series of concentric rings of huge timber posts, or ‘timber circles’. Finding houses inside has rather changed this view!
The Stonehenge monuments workshop
During the workshop, children engage with a number of the monuments of the Stonehenge Landscape through reading, looking at pictures and plans, and handling objects. They answer questions, discuss ideas and complete a number of tasks, such as re-enacting Bronze Age burials and processions that may have taken place on the Avenue, constructing Stonehenge itself, measuring the size of Bluestonehenge, designing carvings that may have been on the posts at Woodhenge, debating the need for a Palisade and much much more. All this is done to win pieces of a puzzle. When these pieces are put together at the end of the session a whole picture emerges.