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In response to Timothy Darvill's article, ‘Mythical rings?’ (this issue), which argues for an alternative interpretation of Waun Mawn circle and its relationship with Stonehenge, Parker Pearson and colleagues report new evidence from the Welsh site and elaborate on aspects of their original argument. The discovery of a hearth at the centre of the circle, as well as further features around its circumference, reinforces the authors’ original interpretation. The authors explore the evidence for the construction sequence, which was abandoned before the completion of the monument. Contesting Darvill's argument that the Aubrey Holes at Stonehenge originally held posts, the authors reassert their interpretation of this circle of cut features as Bluestone settings.
The discovery of a dismantled stone circle—close to Stonehenge's bluestone quarries in west Wales—raises the possibility that a 900-year-old legend about Stonehenge being built from an earlier stone circle contains a grain of truth. Radiocarbon and OSL dating of Waun Mawn indicate construction c. 3000 BC, shortly before the initial construction of Stonehenge. The identical diameters of Waun Mawn and the enclosing ditch of Stonehenge, and their orientations on the midsummer solstice sunrise, suggest that at least part of the Waun Mawn circle was brought from west Wales to Salisbury Plain. This interpretation complements recent isotope work that supports a hypothesis of migration of both people and animals from Wales to Stonehenge.
Geologists and archaeologists have long known that the bluestones of Stonehenge came from the Preseli Hills of west Wales, 230km away, but only recently have some of their exact geological sources been identified. Two of these quarries—Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin—have now been excavated to reveal evidence of megalith quarrying around 3000 BC—the same period as the first stage of the construction of Stonehenge. The authors present evidence for the extraction of the stone pillars and consider how they were transported, including the possibility that they were erected in a temporary monument close to the quarries, before completing their journey to Stonehenge.
Stonehenge is a site that continues to yield surprises. Excavation in 2009 added a new and unexpected feature: a smaller, dismantled stone circle on the banks of the River Avon, connected to Stonehenge itself by the Avenue. This new structure has been labelled ‘Bluestonehenge’ from the evidence that it once held a circle of bluestones that were later removed to Stonehenge. Investigation of the Avenue closer to Stonehenge revealed deep periglacial fissures within it. Their alignment on Stonehenge's solstitial axis (midwinter sunset–midsummer sunrise) raises questions about the early origins of this ritual landscape.
The assemblage of Neolithic cremated human remains from Stonehenge is the largest in Britain, and demonstrates that the monument was closely associated with the dead. New radiocarbon dates and Bayesian analysis indicate that cremated remains were deposited over a period of around five centuries from c. 3000–2500 BC. Earlier cremations were placed within or beside the Aubrey Holes that had held small bluestone standing stones during the first phase of the monument; later cremations were placed in the peripheral ditch, perhaps signifying the transition from a link between specific dead individuals and particular stones, to a more diffuse collectivity of increasingly long-dead ancestors.
The long-distance transport of the bluestones from south Wales to Stonehenge is one of the most remarkable achievements of Neolithic societies in north-west Europe. Where precisely these stones were quarried, when they were extracted and how they were transported has long been a subject of speculation, experiment and controversy. The discovery of a megalithic bluestone quarry at Craig Rhos-y-felin in 2011 marked a turning point in this research. Subsequent excavations have provided details of the quarrying process along with direct dating evidence for the extraction of bluestone monoliths at this location, demonstrating both Neolithic and Early Bronze Age activity.
The new generation of aerial photographers is using different wavelengths to sense archaeological features. This is effective but can be expensive. Here the authors use data already collected for environmental management purposes, and evaluate it for archaeological prospection on pasture. They explore the visibility of features in different seasons and their sensitivity to different wavelengths, using principal components analysis to seek out the best combinations. It turns out that this grassland gave up its secrets most readily in January, when nothing much was growing, and overall the method increased the number of known sites by a good margin. This study is of the greatest importance for developing the effective survey of the world's landscape, a quarter of which is under grass.
A new sequence of Holocene landscape change has been discovered through an investigation of sediment sequences, palaeosols, pollen and molluscan data discovered during the Stonehenge Riverside Project. The early post-glacial vegetational succession in the Avon valley at Durrington Walls was apparently slow and partial, with intermittent woodland modification and the opening-up of this landscape in the later Mesolithic and earlier Neolithic, though a strong element of pine lingered into the third millennium bc. There appears to have been a major hiatus around 2900 cal bc, coincident with the beginnings of demonstrable human activities at Durrington Walls, but slightly after activity started at Stonehenge. This was reflected in episodic increases in channel sedimentation and tree and shrub clearance, leading to a more open downland, with greater indications of anthropogenic activity, and an increasingly wet floodplain with sedges and alder along the river's edge. Nonetheless, a localized woodland cover remained in the vicinity of Durrington Walls throughout the third and second millennia bc, perhaps on the higher parts of the downs, while stable grassland, with rendzina soils, predominated on the downland slopes, and alder–hazel carr woodland and sedges continued to fringe the wet floodplain. This evidence is strongly indicative of a stable and managed landscape in Neolithic and Bronze Age times. It is not until c 800–500 cal bc that this landscape was completely cleared, except for the marshy-sedge fringe of the floodplain, and that colluvial sedimentation began in earnest associated with increased arable agriculture, a situation that continued through Roman and historic times.
Stonehenge continues to surprise us. In this new study of the twentieth-century excavations, together with the precise radiocarbon dating that is now possible, the authors propose that the site started life in the early third millennium cal BC as a cremation cemetery within a circle of upright bluestones. Britain's most famous monument may therefore have been founded as the burial place of a leading family, possibly from Wales.
The Greater Cursus – 3km long and just north of Stonehenge – had been dated by a red deer antler found in its ditch in the 1940s to 2890-2460 BC. New excavations by the authors found another antler in a much tighter context, and dating a millennium earlier. It appears that the colossal cursus had already marked out the landscape before Stonehenge was erected. At that time or soon after, its lines were re-emphasised, perhaps with a row of posts in pits. So grows the subtlety of the discourse of monuments in this world heritage site.
Stonehenge is the icon of British prehistory, and continues to inspire ingenious investigations and interpretations. A current campaign of research, being waged by probably the strongest archaeological team ever assembled, is focused not just on the monument, but on its landscape, its hinterland and the monuments within it. The campaign is still in progress, but the story so far is well worth reporting. Revisiting records of 100 years ago the authors demonstrate that the ambiguous dating of the trilithons, the grand centrepiece of Stonehenge, was based on samples taken from the wrong context, and can now be settled at 2600-2400 cal BC. This means that the trilithons are contemporary with Durrington Walls, near neighbour and Britain's largest henge monument. These two monuments, different but complementary, now predate the earliest Beaker burials in Britain – including the famous Amesbury Archer and Boscombe Bowmen, but may already have been receiving Beaker pottery. All this contributes to a new vision of massive monumental development in a period of high European intellectual mobility….
Reappraisal of an early 20th century excavation at the Cronk yn How round barrow near Ramsey in the Isle of Man suggests that a stone pair was demolished during the 3rd millennium BC to make way for a round barrow with a single central burial. It is suggested that one of the stones from the original pair was decorated with a series of motifs before being incorporated into the barrow. Some of the motifs used find parallels amongst later Neolithic incised rock art on the walls of tombs and houses, and on stone plaques. Other motifs, including what appear to be representations of deer, serve to expand the repertoire of known designs and highlight the potential of this kind of this rather understudied category of rock art. Parallels for the zoomorphic motifs can be found in Scandinavia. A review of other rock art within the Isle of Man revealed more than 70 recorded panels at 55 individual sites making this one of the more densely populated rock art landscapes in the west of Britain. Two main styles are represented, the passage-grave style, which includes the Cronk yn How Stone, and the cup-mark dominated style, or Galician Style. The latter accounts for more than 95% of recorded sites which accords well with what is known of the Isle of Man's cultural relationships during the 4th and 3rd millennia BC.
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