Thursday, October 9, 2008

Stonehenge Back in the News

Perhaps a month (?) ago, a lot of press was given to a new theory about Stonehenge: that it was a "Lourdes-like" center of healing, dated to about 2300 BCE, therefore making it some 300 years younger than the oldest of the "great" pyramids at Giza. I saw new press tonight, that challenges the "healing center" theory and also pushes the date of Stonehenge back to 3000 BCE. First up, a story from the Stonehenge 'was a cremation cemetry, not healing centre' By Louise Gray Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 12:01am BST 09/10/2008 Stonehenge was used as a cremation cemetry throughout its history, according to new evidence that divides archaeologists over whether England's most famous ancient monument was about celebrating life or death. The origins and purposes of Stonehenge have eluded academics and historians for centuries and been the subject of much debate.The circle of standing stones was originally through to have been erected in 2,600 BC, to replace an earlier wood and earth structure where cremation was carried out. Recently a BBC documentary suggested that the standing stones were not erected until 2,300BC, when the site became a centre of healing. Now a team behind the latest dig suggest the standing stones were erected much earlier than previously thought, in 3,000 BC, and used for cremation burial throughout their history and not for healing. The latest evidence is from a team of archaeologists from a number of British universities who have been carrying out excavations over the past five summers. The Stonehenge Riverside Project looked at remains found in an "Aubrey Hole", one of the pits where it was originally throught the wooden posts that predated the standing stones stood. Crushed chalk was discovered leading the team to conclude that in fact standing stones had been erected in the holes much earlier than previously thought. The report said: "We propose that very early in Stonehenge's history, 56 Welsh bluestones stood in a ring 285 feet 6 inches across. This has sweeping implications for our understanding of Stonehenge." The second significant finding was from radiocarbon dating of human remains found on the site from between 2,300 and 3,000 BC. Researchers concluded that this meant cremation burial was going on long after the standing stones had been erected. The report said: "Contrary to claims made in the recent BBC Timewatch film, which promoted a theory of Stonehenge as a healing centre built after the practice of cremation burial had ceased, standing stones and burial may have been prominent aspects of Stonehenge's meaning and purpose for a millenium." Mike Pitts, one of the authors of the study and editor of British Archaelogy, said that the study overturned previous theory over Stonehenge. "This means there were earlier connections with Wales, where the standing stones came from, than previously thought and that Stonehenge was always about death and ancestors and burial and not healing," he said. Geoffrey Wainwright, one of the archaelogists behind the BBC film, maintained that healing was one of the uses of the site. "We do not claim Stonehenge was a single use monument," he said. "We think it was a multifunctional monument and part of its purpose was for healing." Second story from BBC News: Stonehenge 'older than believed' Page last updated at 12:50 GMT, Thursday, 9 October 2008 13:50 UK New findings at Stonehenge suggest its stones were erected much earlier than thought, challenging the site's conventional history. A new excavation puts the stones' arrival at 3000 BC - almost 500 years earlier than originally thought - and suggests it was mainly a burial site. The latest results are from a dig by the Stonehenge Riverside Project. It is in conflict with recent research dating construction to 2300 BC and suggesting it was a healing centre. The 2300 BC date was arrived at by carbon dating and was the major finding from an excavation inside the henge by professors Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright. That dig was the subject of a BBC Timewatch documentary. The latest theories, putting construction much earlier, result from an excavation at Aubrey Hole 7 - one of a circle of pits surrounding the stones - in August 2008. The researchers believe the pit probably held a standing stone. The team suggests the 2300 BC date relates to the time when the stones were moved from the outer pits to the centre of the site. The dig was directed by archaeologists Mike Parker-Pearson, Mike Pitts and Julian Richards for the Stonehenge Riverside Project. The Aubrey Hole has already been excavated twice. The first time, when discovered in 1920, and again in 1935. 'Very exciting' Mike Parker-Pearson, professor of archaeology at Sheffield University, revived an earlier theory that the holes had held bluestones as the evidence of crushed and compacted chalk had been recorded in 1920 in three of the pits. Professor Parker-Pearson said: "It's very exciting that we have evidence for stones right from its beginnings around 3000 BC. "That's almost 500 years earlier than anyone had thought. "These stones were very closely associated with the remains of the dead. There were cremation burials from inside the holes holding the stones and also the areas around them." The archaeologists suggest that very early in Stonehenge's history there were 56 Welsh bluestones standing in a ring - 87m (285ft) across. The Stonehenge Riverside Project has been responsible for major excavation within the Stonehenge world heritage site over the past five years.

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