Is Stonehenge a Prehistoric Ancestor of the Flatpack Furniture?

Is Stonehenge a Prehistoric Ancestor of the Flatpack Furniture?

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Researchers believe that before Stonehenge appeared in England, it once stood as a Welsh tomb and had a special meaning to the people who decided to transport it to their new settlement.

According to the Daily Mail , millennia before flatpack furniture was invented, the inhabitants of what is now Wales and England, were able to create a huge megalithic construction and transport it 140 miles.

The theory has been put forward by Professor Mike Parker Pearson of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London. According to him, it is finally possible to end the long speculation about the meaning behind the Neolithic construction located in Wiltshire, which dates back to as early as 3000 BC. He believes that his recent research will also help to solve the mystery of the smaller bluestone rocks, which do not originate from English quarries, but come from the ones located in Pembrokeshire, over 100 miles from Wiltshire. Moreover, the large standing circle at Stonehenge were made of sarsen stones, which are available locally.

Bluestones at Carn Menyn in Wales

On December 2015, professor Parker Pearson commented on his theory to CNN:

"We don't make that many fantastic discoveries in a lifetime of archeology but this is certainly one them. This is the first time we've found empirical evidence of how they moved the stones. There have been all sorts of ideas from rolling them in a strange cart-like construction to skimming them across the ice. You name it, I've heard it. But we finally have real evidence."

Previously, Pearson published an article in Antiquity magazine, but during the Hay Literary Festival , which began on 26 May, he expanded on this theory. Parker Pearson claimed that Stonehenge likely started off as an ancient tomb in Wales. He believes that 500 years later, when the tribes moved into the east, to England, they brought along the stones that had been dedicated to their ancestors.

The team of researchers from UCL analyzed c. 500,000 bone fragments discovered at the site of Stonehenge. The works confirmed that 25% of the remains belonged to people who lived in the west of Britain.

Some archeologists believe that the Stonehenge was the largest cemetery of the third millennium BC in Britain. They suppose that the only reason for creating it was related to the burial traditions cultivated by these people.

Reconstruction drawing of Stonehenge as it might have appeared in 1000 BC by Alan Sorrell

Parker Pearson also explained that the theory about using rollers to move the stones is nothing more than a Victorian myth. According to his research, people were able to transport such big stones by putting them on wooden sledges dragged on rail-like timbers.

At the end of 2015, the researchers reported about the possible scenario of transporting the elements of Stonehenge from one place to another. As April Holloway from Ancient Origins wrote: ''archaeologists have found the exact holes in a rocky outcrop in Wales from where the bluestones found at Stonehenge originated, revealing that they were quarried 500 years before they were assembled into the famous stone circle that still stands today in Wiltshire, England. The dramatic discovery suggests that the ancient monument was first erected in Wales and later dismantled, transported, and reassembled over 140 miles away in Salisbury Plain.

Archaeologists have been able to identify a series of holes in rocky outcrops that exactly match the size, shape, and consistency of Stonehenge’s bluestones at Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin, to the north of Preseli hills.

The holes have been radiocarbon dated – from nut shells and charcoal from the quarry workers’ campfires – to 3,400 BC at Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3,200 BC at Carn Goedeg. However, the bluestones were not assembled at Stonehenge until 2,900 BC, which raises the question as to why they were quarried centuries before their use in the famous stone monument in Wiltshire, England.''

Now the researchers will try to explore the original Welsh tomb. They believe that it will solve the mystery of Stonehenge and prove that the Welsh tribes relocated to England with their precious monument.

For many centuries, scholars and enthusiasts have been fascinated by Stonehenge, the world&rsquos most famous stone circle. In 2003 a team of archaeologists commenced a long-term fieldwork project for the first time in decades. The Stonehenge Riverside Project (2003-2009) aimed to investigate the purpose of this unique prehistoric monument by considering it within its wider archaeological context.

This is the first of four volumes which present the results of that campaign. It includes investigations of the monuments and landscape that pre-dated Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain as well as of excavation at Stonehenge itself. The main discovery at Stonehenge was of cremated human remains from many individuals, allowing their demography, health and dating to be established. With a revised radiocarbon-dated chronology for Stonehenge&rsquos five stages of construction, these burials can now be considered within the context of the monument&rsquos development. The different types of stone from which Stonehenge is formed &ndash bluestones from Wales and sarsen silcretes from more local sources &ndash are investigated both at Stonehenge and in its surroundings. These surrounding monuments include single standing stones, the Cuckoo Stone and the Tor Stone, as well as the newly discovered circle of Bluestonehenge at West Amesbury beside the River Avon. The ceremonial Stonehenge Avenue, linking Stonehenge to Bluestonehenge, is also included, based on a series of excavations along its length.

The working hypothesis behind the Stonehenge Riverside Project links Stonehenge with a complex of timber monuments upstream at the great henge of Durrington Walls and neighboring Woodhenge. While these other sites are covered in a later volume (Volume 3), this volume explores the role of the River Avon and its topographic and environmental evidence.

With contributions by:
Umberto Albarella, Michael Allen, Olaf Bayer, Wayne Bennett, Richard Bevins, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Chris Casswell, Andrew Chamberlain, Benjamin Chan, Rosamund Cleal, Gordon Cook, Glyn Davies, David Field, Charles French, Robert Ixer, Neil Linford, Peter Marshall, Louise Martin, Claudia Minniti, Doug Mitcham, Bob Nunn, Andy Payne, Mike Pitts, Rebecca Pullen, Julian Richards, David Robinson, Clive Ruggles, Jim Rylatt, Rob Scaife, Ellen Simmons, Charlene Steele, James Sugrue, Anne Teather, Sarah Viner, Tony Waldron, Katy Whitaker and Christie Willis

Honey! I’ve Bought Stonehenge by Accident…

Cecil Chubb had clear instructions from his wife. Under no circumstances was he to return home with any useless object that’ll clutter the dining room.

“We need chairs, a table, maybe a nice rug or two,” Mrs. Chubb told her husband. Or so the story goes.

Imagine sitting at the auction and you get outbid with every single item. You’ll be going home to an earful from the missus if you’re empty-handed. Her indoors wouldn’t be too pleased and it’ll most likely be the couch for you. Chubb was getting hot under the collar. His finger was beginning to twitch. His palms were all sweaty as he fingered the card bearing his number.

“SOLD!” stated the auctioneer as another household item of furniture went to another buyer not named Chubb. It was now or never. He needed a win. The room bristled with excitement as Lot 15 came up for sale.

The auctioneer, Sir Howard Frank, noted how the sellers, Royal Archaeological Society, had underplayed the description. Government men in stuffy attire were not known for their creative descriptions of national importance. Even so, “Stonehenge, together with about 30 acres 2 rods 37 perches of the adjoining downland,” could barely do justice to such a magnificent historical site.

Frank began the bidding at £5,000. Again, there was much shuffling of paper and a few coughs but the room remained eerily silent. “Surely someone will offer me £5,000,” he urged. It was all very awkward.

Chubb glanced around the room to see who was making the first bid. A gentleman in the stalls had raised his hand and a £100 was on the table. The bids swiftly followed. Two men competing to own a slice of history carved by then-unknown ancestors. The back and forth rally paused at £6000. Five bids each.

The transcript from the auction reads like a piece of theatre as an astounded Frank implores the wealthy to reach deep into their pockets. Times were tough but surely the gentry had a few quid lying around for a rainy day?

‘“Gentlemen,” he observed quietly, “it is impossible to value Stonehenge. Surely £6,000 is poor bidding, but if no one bids me anymore, I shall set it at this price. Will no one give me any more than £6,000 for Stonehenge?”’ Source-Transcript from auction.

Surprise rippled through the crowd. On Franks urging, the bidding resumed. Another £100 from the stalls. A further £200 from a hand raised. Three more bids and the auction screeched to a halt. The hammer was raised…and down it came. BANG! SOLD!

Everybody turned around trying to ascertain who might be the buyer. Was it the Crown? Or, as rumored, a rich heiress from overseas? More coughs as a clerk made his way through the seated crowd. A card was handed back to him and he passed that onto Sir Howard Frank who announced, amid applause, that the purchaser was Mr. C.H.E. Chubb of Bemerton, Salisbury.

Chubb squirmed in his chair knowing that this may well be his biggest folly and that his wife was going to ‘kill him’. He had failed to purchase a single chair or household item and instead was going home with a rather large monument to nature.

This,” thought Chubb, “will not sit well on the mantlepiece.

Chubb would later claim that he purchased Stonehenge because a local man should be the owner and not some wealthy collector from overseas.

‘In its preview story, the Daily Telegraph noted that the news of Stonehenge’s sale was “enough to rouse the envy of all American millionaires who are bitten by the craze for acquiring antiques”’ Source The BBC

His wife simply claimed he panicked and that he’s ever-so-excitable when he panics. Why on earth would he think that spending £680,000 (in today's figures) was a romantic gesture when all she wanted was some net curtains?

Naturally, his wife, Mary, hated it. For three long years, she put up with him bleating on about his large edifice. Three years she had suffered hearing from neighbors about how Cecil wasted his money on a pile of rocks.

She urged him, for the good of the nation, to bequeath Stonehenge to the people of Briton. On October 26th, 1918, her wish came true. Chubb, aka Viscount Stonehenge, as the locals called him, handed over the monument to the Crown. In return, Chubb received a knighthood.

Chubb had some conditions though. No local was ever to be charged for entry and that the entrance fee should never be more than a shilling.

And so, Stonehenge, unlike London Bridge, was never dismantled by some wealthy American and reassembled in a desert somewhere in Arizona. Thanks to Chubb, one of Britain’s oldest monuments remains accessible to the public.

Romancing the Stones

Steady rain fell diagonally, driven by a raw wind out of the north, and I narrowed the hood of my parka. With neither tent nor bag, I faced an unpleasant night on southern England's Salisbury Plain. At least my vigil would not be solitary. Around me a boisterous crowd of some 7,000 was camped on the turf at Stonehenge, the enigmatic circle of towering sandstone slabs capped with heavy lintels, whose origins lie in the Neolithic age, some 5,000 years ago. "The most celebrated prehistoric monument in the world," the distinguished archaeologist Sir Colin Renfrew called Stonehenge.

In 2000, fifteen years after the British government closed it to large groups of revelers—following desecration of the site and the death by drug overdose of a young woman in 1984—Stonehenge was reopened to groups, and a long tradition of celebrating the summer solstice resumed. Now, as I huddled in my foulweather gear, I observed an odd assortment— neo-hippies, self-styled latter-day Druids in white cloaks, Goths in black, New Agers of all persuasions, tattooed bikers, drunken "brew crew" louts of the sort that have given English football a bad name, along with suburban-looking families with young kids, and elderly couples. For hours, people played drums, zithers, horns and didgeridoos hugged the stones, eyes shut in beatific trance kissed each other as they stood inside the trilithons (as the assemblies of uprights and lintels are called) and danced upon the recumbent boulders. There were drugs, drink and a little nudity, but came a bleak, misty dawn and not one person had been arrested. The celebrants had even picked up their trash.

No matter how much mumbo jumbo gets projected onto Stonehenge, the intensity of the feelings of my fellow campers testifies to the enduring power the austere stone ring exerts upon human souls. Currently, a million visitors a year walk the designated path just outside the stone circle, marveling at the trilithons. Despite a century of serious archaeology, we still have only the foggiest ideas about why and how Stonehenge was built.

From Caesar's invasion of the British Isles in 54 b.c., which brought literacy to the country, until the 1130s a.d., Stonehenge went strangely unmentioned in the written record. Yet when Geoffrey of Monmouth set down his pioneering History of the Kings of Britain around 1136, he purported to know exactly how the stone circle had come into being. It first had stood "in the remotest confines of Africa," he wrote, "until a race of whimsical Giants transplanted it to MountKillaraus in Ireland." Then, in a.d. 480, the stones were moved to England.

Over the centuries since, British commentators have attributed the monument variously to Romans, Danes, Phoenicians, Druids, or the denizens of Atlantis—just about everyone but the native Brits themselves. As late as 1960, Richard Atkinson, then the leading expert on Stonehenge, argued passionately that a Mycenaean or Minoan architect must have directed native builders. And in 1966, Gerald Hawkins argued in Stonehenge Decoded that the megaliths made up a sophisticated observatory in which the stones served to record solstices and equinoxes and even to predict lunar eclipses. The book was hugely popular, but Hawkins' conclusions have been largely debunked.

Exactly how people with neither metal nor the wheel were capable of quarrying, dressing, transporting and erecting huge stones has been the subject of intense debate for centuries— though an experimental archaeology project in 1994 proved that, with a deft use of sledges, rails, ropes, ramps, pivot blocks and "tilting stones," as few as 100 people would have been needed to move and raise the 40-ton Stonehenge uprights.

For all its inscrutable majesty, it would be a mistake to view Stonehenge as one of a kind—an anomalous temple incomprehensibly erected on a treeless heath in the middle of nowhere. All over Western Europe, Neolithic (roughly 4000 to 2000 b.c.) builders constructed startlingly sophisticated monuments: not only stone circles but huge earthworks containing chambered tombs for the dead. Across Britain alone, there are some tens of thousands of ancient sites, each of which has it own unique stamp, its own idiosyncratic mysteries.

Twenty miles north of Stonehenge stands a monument every bit as enigmatic as its more famous rival, and because of its size, possibly more important. Avebury, which dates from about 2600 to 2400 b.c., does not strike the eye at first glance, as Stonehenge does. A town that first sprang up around a.d. 600 sprawls on top of it, and a paved road cuts through it.

Yet Avebury's grandeur slowly unveils itself. More than a thousand feet in diameter and composed of some hundred stones, it is the largest prehistoric stone circle in the world. Those stones that remain standing today are not dressed and squared like the pillars of Stonehenge. Instead, they reflect all the erratic, lumpy glory of nature's fashioning. Avebury's most astonishing feature, however, is a circular ditch that surrounds the stones, fully 25 feet deep and 60 feet wide. Archaeologists suspect that the principal tool used to dig the huge ditch was the red deer antler.

"[I]t does as much exceed in greatness the so reknowned Stonehenge, as a cathedral doeth a parish Church," wrote John Aubrey, the 17th-century antiquarian best known for his gossipy Brief Lives. Avebury has never been properly excavated. Its chief 20th-century investigator, an amateur archaeologist named Alexander Keiller (grown rich from the marmalade that bears the family name), "restored" it in the 1920s to the puzzling state in which it languishes today. He set a concrete plinth in the ground wherever he had reason to believe a vanished stone once stood.

Were Avebury and Stonehenge temples of some kind? Did the ring of stones and the banked ditch define a sacred interior space or a place of initiation? Or did they create a space to exclude the nonbelievers? Were "henges"—the term has come to mean a circular earthwork with a ditch inside— buildings, or did they loom instead as roofless pillared assemblages? Another question is why the Salisbury Plain was such an important place. The questions await answers.

Beyond Avebury and Stonehenge the region abounds in prehistoric monuments. In WiltshireCounty alone there are 2,300 barrows—linear tombs covered with earthen mounds. West Kennett long barrow lies a mile from the Avebury ring. Archaeologists dug into it as early as 1859, and again in the 1950s. What they unearthed was an exquisitely constructed tomb in the shape of a long passage giving onto small side chambers. Great sarsen stones planted upright defined the grave space, with equally heavy stones set in place as roofing. Within the chambers lay not just simple skeletons but curious, sorted assemblages of human bones.

An even more remarkable monument near Avebury is Silbury Hill, at 130 feet high the largest man-made mound in Europe and long assumed to hide treasure. So far, excavations into the hill have failed to find a single human bone, much less any treasure. Instead, the diggers' shafts and tunnels have revealed a complex set of nested, reinforced walls of chalk rubble and boulders. Is Silbury Hill a tombless pyramid, meant to elevate worshipers toward a godhead in the sky? Whatever its purpose, there is no ignoring the labor its construction required: by one estimate, four million man-hours, or the toil of 300 to 400 men over five years— far more than it took to build Stonehenge and Avebury combined.

From Wiltshire I headed to the single most striking arrays of Neolithic monuments in Britain, in the remote, sandstone-rich Orkney Islands off the Scottish coast. On a narrow isthmus of land between two sizable lakes, smack in the center of the main island, called Mainland, lurk the remains of two great stone circles, the rings of Brodgar and Stenness. However ruined they may be (only four of Stenness' monoliths—large single stones—still stand), I found these two monuments the most haunting of all—thanks in part to their setting, in a sheltered bowl in the heart of the wind lashed archipelago surrounded by rippling lakes, and in part to the soaring thinness of the tallest stones. Neither ring has been fully excavated, but both antedate the stones of Stonehenge.

One of the most striking arrays of Neolithic monuments in Britain, the Ring of Brodgar is on the Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland. Dating from about 2500 B.C., the ring's stones form a perfect circle 340 feet in diameter. (The tallest of the surviving stones is 14 feet high.) A ditch surrounding the ring, dug out of bedrock, is 33 feet wide and 11 feet deep. Archaeologist Colin Renfrew, who partially excavated the site in 1973, estimates the ditch would have required 80,000 man-hours to dig. (Macduff Everton) Midhowe Broch: Orkney Islands, Scotland (Macduff Everton) Stonehenge, the most complete of all England's stone circles, has drawn worshipers and visitors alike for four millennia. Though carefully studied, both its origins and purpose remain mysteries. In the early 1980s revelers desecrated stones, forcing the government, in 1985, to ban large groups. But in 2000, Stonehenge and its festivals were reopened to a now better-behaved public. (Macduff Everton) In 1850, a powerful storm stripped grass and sand from a massive dune known as Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands, revealing the ruins of Neolithic dwellings. Skara Brae, now also the name of the site, is considered one of the oldest Neolithic villages in Scotland and the best-preserved in northern Europe. In its "houses," original stone bed platforms, tables and hearths are to be found. Tunnel passageways between rooms are similar to those in the ancient village's tombs. (Macduff Everton)

Half a mile east of Stenness, a smooth grassy mound rises up from the level pasture around it. Weeds and buttercups cover Maes Howe, the finest chambered tomb in Britain. I crawled on hands and knees 30 feet through the gently inclined tunnel, lined with massive slabs exquisitely dressed and fitted, that leads to the tomb itself. Then I stood up in an inner sanctum roomy enough, at 15 feet square by 15 feet high, to house a small town meeting. The walls are built of indigenous flagstone, masoned by a master hand. It was through the roof in a.d. 1153, according to legend, that a band of Vikings seeking refuge in a bad storm broke in to Maes Howe. As they idled in the dank chamber, the Norsemen carved on the walls. These well-preserved graffiti amount to the single largest collection of Norse runes ever found.

Magnificent though it is, Maes Howe is far from unique. In fact, 86 chambered tombs, mostly unexcavated, have been identified at Orkney. From those that have been excavated, a puzzling scenario emerges: picture a tableau in which shortly after death a body is deliberately defleshed—either by exposure to predators (as in Tibetan sky burial) or perhaps by priests using knives to carve the flesh from the bones. The skeleton is then disarticulated—broken into its separate bones. These are mingled with the bones of other dead, sorted according to some lost formula, and laid in arcane arrangements inside a chambered tomb, where priests might have performed ritual ceremonies. On the ground within a side chamber of the tomb of Knowe of Yarso on the Isle of Rousay, the first diggers found 17 skulls, their mandibles removed, arranged to face the chamber's center.

I asked David Miles, chief archaeologist of English Heritage, the government agency charged with protecting England's archaeological sites, what purpose such a procedure might have served. "Ancestor worship," he speculated. "The single individual was not so important. The idea of a collective ancestry was. The dead are excarnated—perhaps flesh itself was regarded as dangerous or evil. Then carefully selected collections of bones are used in ceremonies."

Orkney also boasts the single-bestpreserved Neolithic village ever found in Britain, Skara Brae, which was first uncovered by a violent storm in 1850. Today the visitor can wander pathways without invading the "houses" themselves, which lie open to the sky. The most surprising aspect of these domiciles is that even the furniture stands in place—stone dressers, hearths, bed platforms, and stools, all arranged in a uniform pattern within each house. At first the houses feel cozy. Then I noticed crawlways between them, a secret chamber in House 1 that could be reached only by crawling under a dresser, bar holes beside doorways to lock houses against intruders and peepholes to spy on outsiders. A tension of distrust seems built into Skara Brae's very architecture. What's more, as experts point out, the houses of the Neolithic denizens strikingly mirror their tombs.

At the same time that archaeologists remain baffled by some of the most basic questions about Neolithic culture— from the language its people spoke to the engine that drove the economy— they have wrung a surprisingly rich understanding of daily life from the tombs of Orkney. We know that the adults of that period were not much shorter than today, men averaging 5 feet 7 inches, women 5 feet 3 1/2 inches. They were muscular but prone to broken bones their teeth were surprisingly free of decay but ground down from grit in their food. The life expectancy was about 35 years. Perhaps one in three babies died in childbirth.

Was Neolithic life, then, nasty, brutish and short? In many ways, certainly but the scarcity of fortifications and weapons found in the archaeological record suggests that the epoch was relatively peaceful. It's even possible that the act of building massive monuments to ancestors was the glue that held society together.

Four years ago, in Norfolk, the county that juts like a fat paw into the North Sea 120 miles northeast of London, a local beachcomber, John Lorimer, stumbled upon one of the great prehistoric finds of the century— and touched off a furor. Walking the beach near Hunstanton, Lorimer noticed a huge, upside-down tree trunk sprouting from the sand, halfway between the high- and low-tide mark. Then, 25 feet from the stump, he picked up a metal object. A self-taught antiquarian, Lorimer guessed he had found a Bronze Age ax head. An archaeologist proved him right, dating it to 1600-1400 b.c. A few months later, Lorimer noticed that the upside-down tree trunk had company: three posts sticking several inches out of the sand. On subsequent visits, he found more posts, and soon recognized that they were laid out in a circle, with the tree trunk at the hub.

Lorimer had discovered what the press soon dubbed Seahenge. The first archaeologists to visit the site, scholars from the Norfolk Archaeological and Environment Division in Norwich, knew at once that the post circle was ancient and important. But precisely what it was perplexed them. As early as 1925, evidence of henges made of wood—entirely vanished today—was discovered from the air by patterns of posthole rings in the ground. (Stonehenge itself, experts later concluded, had been made of timber a thousand years before the stone trilithons were raised.) Never before, however, had any original timbers been found. Seahenge was that rarest of things—an apparent wooden henge with wood intact, miraculously preserved by the deep bed of peat that lay above it. A dendrochronologist cut a wedge out of the central inverted oak and, using the most advanced radiocarbon dating techniques, came up with a date that is stunningly accurate—the central oak and posts were felled in 2049 b.c.

Evaluating the site in 1998, the Norwich team determined that Seahenge was in immediate danger due to the erosion of the protective peat. Though the policy of English Heritage is to leave artifacts where they are found, the urgency of the perceived threat led to a decision to remove the timbers. But as archaeologists prepared to do so in May 1999, all hell broke loose. Some of the same New Agers and neo-Druids who would celebrate the solstice with me at Stonehenge flocked to the Seahenge beach, determined to block the excavation. They were joined by locals who also felt that the timbers should be left in place. "There was lots of verbal abuse," Maisie Taylor, a specialist in waterlogged archaeological sites, recalls. "The young archaeologists took the worst of it. We had hate mail and even death threats. Eventually we had to have police protection." Ultimately, the excavation went forward. Slowly, as each high tide brought with it muck and sand, the team, led by archaeologist Mark Brennand, made some intriguing discoveries. Bronze Age axmen (or women) had cut notches into the trunk of the giant oak stump, most likely to keep it from slipping when maneuvering it with a rope. Indeed, rope fragments, unbelievably still in place, proved to be braided of honeysuckle nothing like them had ever before been found. As for the ellipse of timbers, from 15 to 18 feet across, it turned out not to be a henge at all. There was no trace of a surrounding ditch, and the timbers stood tight to one another like a palisade, with no apparent doorway. (Brennand thinks a single forked post may have served as the entryway initiates would have had to clamber through the forked V to get inside.) Finally, in August 1999, the last post was taken out of the sand. Each timber was carried by military stretcher to a trailer and driven to Flag Fen laboratory in Peterborough, where all 55 of them were submerged in preservation tanks filled with constantly moving water.

Archaeologist Maisie Taylor gave me a tour of the Flag Fen facility, which is open to the public. Delicately, she lifted one six-foot log out of the water and held it for my perusal. I was instantly struck by the ax marks that had trimmed it—the first evidence of tool use ever found in Britain. "What little Bronze Age woodworking we've ever seen demonstrates an amazing sophistication," Taylor said. Using state-of-theart laser-scanning techniques, experts identified the "fingerprints" of some 38 different axes that, remarkably, had been used to hew the timbers of Seahenge.

Taylor invited me to touch the log. It felt like a cooked mushroom. "You could take it out with your fingernail," she said, putting it back in the water. Once the timbers have been studied, they will be sprayed with fixative chemicals.

In the meantime, the Seahenge discovery underscores the notion that for all the permanence of stone monuments, equally magnificent monuments crafted out of wood once spread from one end of Britain to the other: wooden tombs, timber circles, standing timbers carved with intricate designs—all vanished but for their vacant postholes.

Almost a year after Taylor and her group excavated Seahenge, I drove up the Norfolk coast to talk to local villagers about the excavation. "I played on that beach when I was 8 or 9 I'm 68 now," retired builder and fisherman Geoffrey Needham told me between sips of lager at the Whitehorse Pub in Holme-nextthe- Sea. "As long as I can remember, that big oak stump has been sticking out. They should have left it. The shifting sands would have covered it up. It would come and go as always." Needham showed me a postcard of Seahenge made from a photograph taken by his sister Wendy George that he said many of the protesters still carry with them like a talisman. Back in London, I told English Heritage's David Miles about my conversation in the pub. Miles said he thought it unlikely that Needham could have seen the oak stump as a child the timbers were exposed only a few years ago. (In all likelihood Seahenge had been built some distance inland. Four thousand years of eroding, crashing waves had brought the seashore to the monument.)

"I see it as a sacred space," Miles went on. "There are anthropological parallels in which an upside-down tree serves as a channel into the underworld and the heavens. Trees blasted by lightning were said to be ‘chosen by the gods.' " Miles looked at the postcard, then smiled a rueful smile common to archaeologists confronted by mysteries about the past. "But of course we really don't know.

Will Self: has English Heritage ruined Stonehenge?

T he cafe at the new Stonehenge visitor centre was packed it was showery outside but inside the atmosphere was thick with the distinctive aroma of wet Gore-Tex – a smell I always associate with the British heritage industry. Simon Thurley, the chief executive of English Heritage – and therefore the pre-eminent guardian of our nation's physical remains – was delighted: "I'm glad there isn't any room," he said, leading me between the tables, "it shows we're doing something right." He found us somewhere to sit, near a couple who appeared a little bit more alternative than the tourists: she was wearing a long gypsy skirt and a garland of daisies on her head he sported a hessian jacket and held a staff topped with a carved goat's head. Smiling, Thurley called my attention to the ageing hippies. For him, they were yet more evidence that English Heritage is on track the long impasse during which the facilities at this, the most salient prehistoric monument in the country, have universally been regarded as a disgrace, has at last ended. At 4.43am on 21 June, when the sun rises above the rolling plains of Wiltshire and, cloud willing, its rays come fingering their way through the grass to touch the mighty sarsens and bluestones of the Henge, it will be a moment of joy for all concerned: the battles of the past between druids, crusties, conservators, archaeologists, seers and sightseers are over – thousands of them will be there, ready to celebrate the dawn of a new age for the Neolithic.

At least, I imagine that's how Thurley would like us to see it. A slim, trim man, sandy-haired and with sharp eyes, he's been at the top of the ancient heap since 2002. The past has, to put it mildly, been good to him, and he wasn't about to let some scuzzy hack lift a leg and piss on his parade.

A 'holiday experience' … Will Self visits Stonehenge. Photograph: Mike Pitts/

In the cafe, pissing was to the forefront of Thurley's mind. He asked me if I remembered the old arrangements at Stonehenge, the tea served through a hole in the wall of what looked like a nuclear bunker, the grim tunnel under the road to the stones, and the Portakabin loos. He hymned the loveliness of the new loos, and went on to eulogise the fresh approach to this immemorial site. For Thurley, as the guardian of Stonehenge, his priorities were self-evident: to protect the nation's archaeology and to provide what he termed "a holiday experience". Later, he was still more specific about the nature of this experience: it was English Heritage's job, he told me, to provide "entertainment" for the million-plus visitors who descend on the site every year, visitors who – as he put it – mostly "want a selfie with the trilithon". For while Thurley is keen to enhance our understanding of the Neolithic, he doesn't want to be a po‑faced purveyor of education rather, he wishes to preserve the enigma of Stonehenge, an enigma he considers to be "the goose" that lays the gold-paying – and frequently ovoid – visitors.

He talked to me of how timed ticketing has made famous historic attractions such as the Alhambra in Spain far more enjoyable to visit, and he spoke enthusiastically of how experimental archaeology was transforming our understanding of Stonehenge. I could appreciate why he was keen to emphasise the latter: we were both there to see the Neolithic houses that archaeologists and their volunteer helpers have been erecting in a compound behind the new visitor centre – jolly little structures with steeply pitched thatch roofs and wattle-and-daub walls. Of course, the Henge itself has been substantially remodelled over the centuries, never more so than during the last, when several stones were re-erected and lintels were replaced to form trilithons that hadn't been intact for a long time. Thinking about all of this, and the contrivance of the new visitor experience – which, although it no longer involves the dreaded tunnel, does require a 2km road-train shuttle from the centre to the stones – I couldn't stop myself from uttering the dreaded M-word: "Don't you worry about the monument ceasing to be real in an important sense," I asked. "I mean, with all this messing about isn't Stonehenge in danger of museumification?"

Some druidical Beltane fire flickered in Thurley's eyes and he snapped back at me, quick as a flint-tipped arrowhead fired from a Neolithic bow: "Museumification isn't a word!" I forbore from referring him to the collected works of Jean Baudrillard, because I very much doubted he was unfamiliar with the philosopher's view that "Our entire linear and accumulative culture collapses if we cannot stockpile the past in plain view. To this end the pharaohs must be brought out of their tomb and the mummies out of their silence. To this end, they must be exhumed and given military honours. They are prey to both science and worms." In fact, I suspect the head of English Heritage probably reads such heretical works as Simulacra and Simulation late at night, in the privacy of his bedroom, the same way that priests dip into pornography. Because of course nothing is more destructive of the sanctity of his own vocation than the suggestion that we simply don't need this kind of conservation – if that's what it really is – at all that on the contrary, the entire "relaunch" is simply the bastard offspring of an orgiastic union between Mammon and science, consummated on the Stonehenge altar stone and observed by the fee-paying public.

Anyway, I was able to get my own back when a few minutes later Thurley was describing the currently mooted plans to separate English Heritage into two organisations: one vested with the same responsibilities as the old Ministry of Works (namely the categorisation and preservation of listed buildings and sites), the other an independent charity – or series of such charities – that will continue with the husbandry of the 400-strong flock of golden geese (sorry, I mean "heritage sites"). Discussing the tricky Velcro-parting of the organisation Thurley used the dreaded D-word – "Demerging" – and I was able to snap at him in turn: "That isn't a word!" He took my remonstrance in good part, but the sad thing is that "demerging" is not only a word, it's exactly the right sort of term to apply to the English heritage industry, which, whatever else we may wish to believe about it, is potentially big business, and therefore subject entirely to the same calculus of profit as our other formerly public services. Thurley was at pains to stress that "I wouldn't ever say anything patronising about any of our visitors," which is odd, you might think, coming from someone whose very raison d'etre consists in preventing the childish public from chipping away at stuff they don't understand much – beyond the bare fact that it's very old – so they can cart off a free souvenir, rather than shelling out for a Stonehenge snow globe in the superbly appointed new gift shop.

Will Self surveys the new Neolithic houses. Photograph: Patrick Keiller

Odd, also, given that such stress is placed at Stonehenge – and other English Heritage sites – on the educative value of a visit. Thurley was especially eager to distinguish EH from the National Trust on the grounds that "We do history." I thought this was all fair enough, although surely, I cavilled, if building simulacra of Neolithic houses and learning how to flint knap is our new route to the past, then really the actual monument itself is somewhat besides the point. And I was about to say the M-word again, but Thurley had had enough: the reception for the new-old houses was about to begin and his attendance was required. I tagged along. The canapes were excellent, and the archaeological folk smelt different from the trippers … more heathery. I fell into conversation with a weathered-looking man of about my own age, who turned out to be the freelance archaeologist (and editor of British Archaeology), Mike Pitts. I'd been reading his book Hengeworld (2001) over the preceding week, so I was pleased to meet him.

Archaeologists are paradoxical figures, I think – and increasingly so. Reading Pitts's writing, and that of other diggers and delvers, I'm always struck by the disparity between the sketchy nature of the evidence they present and the way the narratives they construct on its basis seem to bear down on their imaginations – and ours as well. Stonehenge, because of its unprecedented size – and more importantly, weight – has attracted hyperbole the way magnets do iron filings: the place positively bristles with explanations and always has. Rosemary Hill's fine book Stonehenge gathers together all of the tales that have been spun around the stones since its first appearance in the annals. Reading it, I was struck by how there are two main historical timelines at Stonehenge, the history of the monument itself and the history of these explanations of it and that it's in the interaction between the two that our culture has given birth to its own peculiar theology of deep time, for each era cannot help but seek out a past that it finds inspiring – or at least congenial.

Stonehenge seems so much more enigmatic than other Neolithic structures because these two timelines have been so oddly discontinuous the problem isn't simply that our science cannot furnish a definitive explanation as to why or how the stones were raised – after all, how could it? – but that the narrative is itself so fragmentary and incomplete. Work at the site ceased, we believe, around 1600BCE, but the monument doesn't appear at all in the historical record – apart from being noted as a boundary marker in a property deed dated CE937 – until it's mentioned in Henry of Huntingdon's Historia Anglorum of around 1130. Henry says of "Staneges" that it is one of the wonders of the country, but that "no one can conceive … how such great stones have been so raised aloft, or why they were built there." We aren't surprised that the Romans had nothing to say about, say, the nearby Avebury stone circle, because it's far less manifest than Stonehenge – and by extension, the oblivion of time that blankets scores of British Neolithic and bronze age sites is in keeping with our current ignorance: to this day, so few people visit them that their enigmatic character is itself underimagined.

But Stonehenge was hiding for all those centuries in plain view, standing proud of a landscape of closely cropped turf, in an area where we now believe settled agriculture was being practised at the same time as its construction. It is, I think, the sense we have of Stonehenge being ever-present to the minds of scores of successive generations that has propagated this strange faith: if only we could accurately interrogate this millennia-long memory, we would somehow discover what the monument truly is and, in the process, find out who we, the English, are. Certainly, the way Stonehenge becomes rapidly incorporated into myths of origin supports this notion. For Henry of Huntingdon's contemporary, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Stonehenge was the burial place of King Arthur's father, Uther Pendragon, although it was originally built by Pendragon's brother, King Aurelius, as a monument to Britons who were murdered at the site by the treacherous Saxon invader Hengist. This foundational tale is given not one but two supernatural dimensions by Geoffrey: first, he conjures the wizard Merlin as Aurelius's contractor Merlin, we are told, magically transported the great stones from Ireland and second, he, together with other early medieval chroniclers, mixes the Arthurian legends with Christian mythology so as to put Joseph of Arimathea, the 12 apostles and the holy grail in the frame.

We can track the development of our own polity through these ideas about Stonehenge: from the Hanoverian period when the identification of the monarch with the embattled King Solomon led to the stones being viewed – at least figuratively – as an outpost of the Holy Land, to the contemporary era when the business of government is no longer to enforce God's rule on Earth, but to raise the finance necessary to dig that earth up and establish scientific truths about our origins. Thurley was keen to emphasise that the £27m that's been spent on the new visitor centre and grassing over a section of the A344 was financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage's own commercial income and philanthropic donations. This means the new landscape of Stonehenge embodies modern Mammon's triumvirate of commoditisation, gambling and charity, just as it once did Trinitarian ideas of transcendence and immanence.

As late as the early 20th century, perfectly reputable archaeologists were still proposing mysterious foreign artificers for the stones. The monument has been variously attributed to Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians and the Jews. The discovery that the 11 bluestones of Stonehenge originated in the Presili Hills, 160 miles away in Pembrokeshire, gave strong impetus to the idea that its construction was deeply mysterious, and required the intervention either of magical beings or an alien and advanced civilisation. Even today, scientific opinion remains divided over whether they were hewn, dragged and possibly floated to the site, or were merely left lying there in the wake of retreating glaciations while, as for the still larger sarsen stones, as far as I'm aware there's no specific separate explanation for how they got to Stonehenge from the Marlborough Downs, which are by no means as far as Wales but still a significant drag away. In recent decades the pushing back of the dates for the various phases of Stonehenge's construction, together with extensive new evidence from digs at the nearby massive earthen henge at Durrington Walls, have contributed to a different sort of a narrative and there's general archaeological consensus that this entire part of Wiltshire, from the huge earthworks at Avebury and Silbury Hill, stretching down the Avon to Woodhenge and Durrington Walls, and taking in the strange features known as the cursus and the Stonehenge Avenue (parallel earthwork ridges running for several kilometres) as well as scores of barrows (or burial mounds) constituted an integrated "sacred landscape".

Tourists Visiting Stonehenge Photograph: John Harper/ John Harper/Corbis

Thurley spoke to me of the "immersive" visitor experience the new Stonehenge provides, and it's obviously this narrative he had in mind. In fairness to English Heritage, there's a curious congruence between our forebears' supposed fate and our own. They came by water we usually arrive at Stonehenge via the A303. They may have stopped at the settlement at Durrington Walls we park up at the visitor centre. They proceeded on foot several kilometres from east to west we're dragged by a Land Rover hitched to a road train 2km from west to east. They doubtless engaged in a ceremonial procession around the stones and of course, so do we. They may well have paid with their lives for this experience we shell out £13.90, or £21 if we want a Stone Circle Access ticket (26 places available either in the early morning or the late evening). They were perhaps engaged in ritual observance mediated by the stones – and we definitely are. We cannot know the nature of their beliefs, but it seems reasonable to imagine that the monument stood at the centre of a complex web of ideas conjoining human life, death and the natural cycles of the cosmos. We can however be perfectly clear about our own beliefs for us, the monument stands at the centre of a complex web of ideas linking ownership, knowledge and consumption, ideas that are mediated by rituals involving money. The more you consider the matter, the more salient the parallels between the Neolithic and the neoliberal appear: archaeologists seem fairly convinced that implicit in the Stonehenge's design is some form of ancestor worship for us there can be no doubt: we revere the idea of their reverence, we are engaged in a degraded form of meta‑ancestor worship.

'More significant than the contemporary built environment' … The Ring of Brodgar in Stenness, Orkney. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

I first encountered the wonder of the Neolithic far to the north of Wiltshire. Like so many others, I visited Stonehenge as a child, although I remember little of the experience. When I was working on this piece, my brother reminded me of that trip: the barbed wire strung lopsidedly around the stones, the cars pulled up at the roadside, the woeful refreshments stall and the scrappy air of desuetude and decay. I've been back to Stonehenge several times over the years, and at no time did I find the experience in the least bit immersive, nor did I apprehend any great wondrousness inhering in the stones themselves. But in the Orkney islands, where I lived over the winter of 1993-4 – I've returned many times since – Neolithic remains can seem more significant than the contemporary built environment. A couple of miles from the house I stayed in on the island of Rousay, there's the ruin of an iron age broch, or fortified dwelling, and beyond this there's a Neolithic chamber tomb, Midhowe, that's dated to the third millennium BCE. Midhowe is a large and complex structure, although by no means as obviously important as Stonehenge. It was fully excavated in the 1930s and 40s by Walter Grant (of the distilling family) who owned the Trumland estate on Rousay, which included this site and several other important tombs. Since the roof of Midhowe has long since gone, Grant covered up the exposed stonework with hangar-like structure, but the curious thing is that this doesn't detract at all from its powerful and brooding atmosphere.

During my times in Orkney I've visited a great many of the Neolithic sites. I've sat in tombs, laid in them, dreamed in them, and tried to grasp the sort of mindset – whether individual or collective – that's implied by buildings that took shape over thousands of years, and were built by people with life-spans far shorter than our own. I have felt the wonder – felt it most of all, because at Midhowe there is hardly any of the furniture and signage associated with the modern tourist attraction: no ticket office, no custodian, and only discreet information boards. Apart from in high season, you can visit Midhowe and most of the other great Orkney sites with the confident expectation that you'll see scarcely another human being. When I mentioned that I'd done my Neolithic wondering in Orkney to Pitts at Stonehenge he said: "Well, that's quite a different sort of experience." And when I remarked to Thurley that it seemed a shame that Stonehenge was overrun with people while even sites as nearby – and impressive – as Avebury were scarcely visited, he shrugged and said: "People just won't go there," as if this were something entirely beyond his control.

After admiring the cafe at the visitor centre, and the Neolithic houses, I walked together with Pitts, Heather Sebire (English Heritage's property curator), and a fellow from the National Lottery Heritage Fund up the sealed-off stretch of road to the stones themselves. The rain had cleared, and apart from the rumble of the road-trains, all was placid in the sunlight. Pitts and Sebire were never less than engaged and authoritative – offering rich information and giving serious consideration to my heretical views – yet, for my part, wonder was there not. As we neared the stones, Sebire pointed out the green lane that runs immediately to the west of the site. Neither she nor Thurley will thank me for writing this, but it remains a byway open to traffic, so, at least in principle, it's still possible for trippers to park adjacent to Stonehenge, and in the time-honoured way munch sandwiches, drink tea from a Thermos, and perhaps scatter a few crumpled papery offerings. It's the possible removal of this byway, together with the display of human remains at the visitor centre, that is most exercising the man we might think of as Stonehenge's alternative archon, Arthur Uther Pendragon (born John Rothwell), the leader of the Loyal Arthurian Warband – a neo-druidic order with strong political and environmentalist tendencies – and the self-proclaimed reincarnation of King Arthur.

If the aim of most neophyte visitors to the site is, as Thurley suggests, getting a selfie with a trilithon, then lingering in most of their minds is also an image of men with long white beards and long white robes doing stuff with sickles and mistletoe while raising their arms up to the rising sun. As inventions of bogus deep-time traditions go, British druidism has to be one of the most enduringly successful. The antiquarians of the 17th and 18th centuries who linked Stonehenge to the Celtic druids helped to spawn druidic orders that, by the Victorian era, allowed thousands of men to dress up in funny costumes and hold ceremonies. Druidism can be seen as another quasi-Masonic phenomenon, and druids of this ilk are on a par with any other odd fellows, their aim being clubbable mutual assistance rather than mystical transcendence. But in the last century, some druidic orders began hearkening to the rising tides of paganism and pantheism, and by the time hippies and crusties began gathering at the stones to celebrate the solstice, there was at least some common cause between the men with goat-headed staffs and those with long white robes. Even the archaeological community felt the ripples of cosmic knowledge spreading out from the stones: the new field of astro-archaeology, which posits Stonehenge and other Neolithic sites as astronomical "clocks" or "calendars", formed a bridge between the diggers and the dreamers.

It might be easy to dismiss Arthur Pendragon as an endearing eccentric had he not been quite so successful. The Stonehenge Free festival began in 1974, and during the following decade the numbers of celebrants and revellers descending on the stones to dance the shortest night of the year away grew and grew. The so-called Convoy – a cavalry of hippies, anarchists and crusties that moved around the country from festival to festival – became the focus of the secular authorities' displeasure. Goaded by local landowners, in June 1985 the then chairman of English Heritage, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, took measures to suppress the Free festival. Riot police with helicopter support were called in, and the Convoy was tracked down to a Wiltshire bean field on the border where many hairy heads were unceremoniously cracked. The following year, the Public Order Act was passed by parliament, in part to suppress events such as the solstice celebration.

King Arthur Pendragon (centre left) leads a protest march at Stonehenge. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

It was Arthur Pendragon's destiny to take on this grotesque alignment of state power and property rights. In subsequent years, armed with his trusty sword, Excalibur (a superannuated prop from John Boorman's film of the same name), he persistently challenged the law against assembling at Stonehenge, while the site itself grew increasingly to resemble one of the military encampments on nearby Salisbury Plain. All this came to a head when two demonstrators were arrested at the stones, and Arthur chained up the doors of English Heritage's HQ. When, in 1999, the case of the Stonehenge Two was finally brought to the House of Lords, their conviction was overturned. This marked the last violent solstice confrontation: English Heritage, the National Trust and other official bodies had already – much in the spirit of British governments negotiating secretly with the IRA – been holding round-table talks (yes, at an actual round table) with Arthur and other druids, and now it was agreed that limited open access would be allowed for the summer and winter solstice festivals.

Speaking to Arthur on the phone, I was struck by how nuanced his view of the monument was. In part he still cleaves to the agreement forged 15 years ago. He agrees with the English Heritage plan originally formulated by Jocelyn Stevens and now being enacted by his successor he wants to see Stonehenge reintegrated with the surrounding "sacred" landscape, while in important ways the pagans and the archaeologists retain a common cause: both groups, after all, venerate the monument, even if it's in radically different ways. Arthur, however, has three sword edges to grind: he wants greater open access to the stones for solstices and equinoxes, objects to the timed ticketing of the monument and particularly reviles the display at the new visitor centre of human remains found at the site. His epithet for Thurley's outfit is "English Heretics", and he sees the demerging of English Heritage as the beginning of the rampant commercialisation of our historic sites. "English Heritage will be measured on a success criteria … based on how much they save the tax payer in grants, and thereby how much money they make themselves," he wrote in the Western Daily Press. "How long before McDonald's Stonehenge or World of Warcraft Battle Abbey? Once they are cut loose from the government, they will be free to look for outside sponsorship."

For now, English Heretics – sorry, I mean Heritage – is in a transitional stage, and the state of Stonehenge reflects this. As we reached the stones another showery curtain came swishing over the Wiltshire sward. The tourists kept up with their penitential circuit of the site on the prescribed route, while I examined the broken ground where the old visitor centre and the foot tunnel under the abandoned road are being returned to a simulacrum of the natural. Given the vast timescale over which humans have interacted with the English landscape, it seems plausible that archaeologists of the distant future will concoct some narrative to unify these works with the stones themselves, perhaps one based on the astronomical alignment of the tunnel with the decayed footings of some vast M-shaped golden arches that were mysteriously erected some decades later. Standing in the rain, I mentioned to Sebire that I'd intended to walk right up to Stonehenge, and that, as far as I could see, this would still be possible even under the new dispensation. She conceded it would, observing that if visitors had the stamina to walk up the cursus or the avenue from the east, there would be nothing stopping them from bunking in without paying.

And this, surely, embodies the true enigma of the contemporary monument. Stonehenge has influenced English architecture as various as Georgian Bath and the roundabouts and boulevards of Milton Keynes, and it's the latter that the monument now seems to be mimicking in turn. I don't doubt that Thurley has an aversion to patronising his paying guests – but really, patronising is precisely what the heritage industry is all about: preserving our ancient monuments against our own thoughtless depredations organising a charitable and corporate funding structure for them because we cannot be trusted to pay for them out of the public purse educating us as to their possible meaning and, most of all, providing a seamless complex of car parks and road trains so we can visit them without having to animate our own overweight bodies. We took the road train back from the stones to the visitor centre, and, as we chugged along, I asked an elderly American gentleman where he was from: "Virginia," he replied. I then asked him how long he would be in England and he told me his cruise ship had docked at Southampton that morning, they'd been ferried to Stonehenge by coach, and now they were returning directly to the port. Had he enjoyed the stones? "I just wanted to see them," he said. "I've heard about them all my life and I just wanted to see them." Hadn't he been impressed? "Not especially, I just wanted to see them."

It's this just-wanting-to-see-things that English Heritage seems perfectly willing to cater to, and it's the logical correlate of a modern attitude that sees places as exchangeable one for another in some notional marketplace. I don't believe you can force people to visit Avebury – or the Orkneys for that matter – but it seems a pretty poor bit of patronising to not at least make strenuous efforts to encourage them. Back at the new visitor centre there was an expensive range of Stonehenge jewellery for sale, and in the exhibition area, along with the computerised VDU info-panels, there were copies of some of the celebrated early medieval works that mention Stonehenge. At least, I thought, they were the real copies, until I took a closer look and discovered that these were in fact replicas. It would seem that museumification and demerging are both very real words indeed, and at Stonehenge they are beginning a beautiful relationship.

Northern Ontario Stonehenge? Mysterious boulders explored on the back roads

Myth or belief, maybe it is like the Loch Ness monster? You see what you want to see you think what you want to think.

What&rsquos more fun than a mystery where you can write the ending? On a back road near a unique shoreline is a configuration of huge boulders that pose more questions than answers.

The unusual aggregation of these rounded rocks may not have the same visual impact as Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument on the Salsbury Plain in England.

No one seems to be sure how these huge, rounded rocks arrived and when? Why does the alignment match exactly with the rising and setting of the sun on the winter and summer solstices? One person has spent a lifetime trying to discover the significance. Why do Indigenous people consider this a sacred site - is it the proximity to a nearby mountain top, a retreat for shamans?

There is an aggregation of 18 huge erratics, some twice the height of a human on the shores of Larder Lake, east of Kirkland Lake.

Like members of a small community, these &ldquoStonehenge&rdquo rocks are well known to the residents of Larder Lake, situated across the water body of the same name on the northeast shore near the Big Narrows.

A glacial erratic is a piece of rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests. The erratics here are dissimilar many of them have different origins and compositions. Another question has been posed by researchers could it be possible the rocks were stacked on top of one another and have now fallen over?

The site is found on a flat almost barren stretch of bedrock, much different than the surrounding terrain. There are striations everywhere etched into the rock. These are the lines or scratches on the surface inscribed by rock fragments embedded in the base of a glacier as it moved across.

When you come to the boulders the immediate difference is noted when compared to the surrounding terrain. That in itself is a geological anomaly. The four-stone alignment matches exactly with the rising and settings of the sun on the summer and winter solstices. Can these rock&rsquos proximity to nearby Mt. Cheminis, a solitary and significant height of land be simply a coincidence?

Vernon Dufresne did not think so. He lived most of his life in the Larder Lake area he said the rocks has been a &ldquoconundrum&rdquo for him for years. In a previous interview, he thinks the rocks were moved into place for a reason.

In the year 2000, he released his study and interpretation of the site.

&ldquoThe Rock Structure is very unique. There is no other similar site in North or South America. It may be compared to medicine wheels found in the Canadian and American prairies,&rdquo Dufresne wrote.

His investigation points to the configuration of four large rocks aligned in a north-south direction in line with Polaris, the North Star. He believes some of the rocks could have been moved to form this significant directional monument for early Indigenous peoples and their seasonal relationships with the land.

&ldquoIt has been fun,&rdquo he said. &ldquoPeople look at me with bewilderment or appreciate the science behind the theory.&rdquo

There is little to no soil on the flat bedrock in the immediate area of the boulder field with a lack of boulders on the shoreline when compared to the adjacent shorelines.

Geologists have made note of this peculiarity. One Ministry of Northern Development and Mines report states, &ldquoThe edges of the cleared area looked unnatural as well, as though the overburden and boulders had been pushed away.&rdquo

An ethnological investigation became part of an archaeological study of the Larder Lake &ldquoMystery Rocks&rdquo in 1992. A Native elder and shaman, Fred Pine, was brought to the site by archaeologists.

From the report of archaeologist Thor Conway, &ldquoFred definitely thought that the mystery rocks of Pearl Beach were used for such purposes by prehistoric peoples. He feels there is a power in the rocks underneath the site which he could feel by walking there. He thought the area had been previously cleared.&rdquo

Dolstones or rock alignments were used by early Indigenous peoples as &ldquopower snares&rdquo to capture spirits which then could be used against their enemies. A location such as this was known as a &ldquopower spot.&rdquo

Within 300 metres there is a significant Indigenous encampment.

Archaeologist Dr. John Pollock discovered the adjacent beach (Pearl Beach) had been used extensively as a home by Indigenous people from the earliest post-glacial times (6,000 B.C.) up to the historical present. In fact, 14 other sites have been identified on Larder Lake.

Dr. Jonathan Pitt thinks this is a spiritual site. His family is comprised of Ojibway and Algonquin First Nations, his heritage also includes Huron and Cree ancestry. He is currently a part-time instructor in Nipissing University's Schulich School of Education Aboriginal Education Programs and a full-time school teacher with the Near North District School Board.

&ldquoWe know that our medicine people could communicate at sacred rock sites in ways that modern science cannot comprehend as it is generally understood communicating on another plane of existence that I have often heard referred to as &lsquoSpiritual Smartphone.&rsquo Our Grandfather Rocks, we understand that they have been here longer than us, (i.e. The Big Bang Theory) and have seen more and experienced more than our physical bodies can endure.

"They have what is commonly understood as a memory of the earth&rsquos past.

There are relationships between these sacred rocks, our rituals, dreams, visions, pictographs and the constellations. Because so much of our knowledge has been lost, my sense is that perhaps our ancestors had a greater understanding of the night sky than we do today.

"Rocks and formations with features that might resemble an obelisk or have unique tall features may have been used for ceremony (vision/cleansing) or to communicate with the spirit world.

The composition or type of the rocks themselves at sites might also have been a factor in site selection and are just a few examples at sites we know of that have been used since time immemorial,&rdquo Pitt said.

The site was featured in Ron Brown&rsquos book, 50 Unusual Things to See in Ontario.

&ldquoI was first guided to this "Stonehenge" site in the mid-1980s.

"I met with a local surveyor who took me to the location he explained the configuration to me based on his mapping, and their apparent relation to the solstices.

"There also is apparently evidence of a First Nations quarry on the shores of the lake, and that nearby Raven Mountain, which looks like a volcanic plug, was a religious focus of some description. I have also been told that the site lies on what may have been an early Indigenous transportation route to James Bay,&rdquo wrote Brown.

Cheminis Mountain, also called Mount Chadron, can be seen, in the distance, from the shoreline. More on this within a previous Back Roads Bill story.

It would have been like a &lsquosignpost&lsquo in the wilderness. The early Ojibway held this mountain in great spiritual reverence. They called the hill &lsquoShewmeness&rsquo. The Ojibway shamans were known to occasionally retire to the summit of Shewmeness to fast and meditate. The hike to the top is worth it and after you visit the Stonehenge of Northern Ontario, here is the map.

In mysteries, there are puzzle pieces to connect. Whatever you want to believe about this anomaly is for you to solve within your own sense of what is or isn&rsquot on the back roads.

Is Stonehenge a Prehistoric Ancestor of the Flatpack Furniture? - History

The people who lived during the Palaeolithic were nomadic hunter-gatherers who used stone tools

They have left behind no large buildings or permanent settlements. Remains from this period are very hard to find and often in caves

  • Several different species of human existed at different times during the Palaeolithic, sometimes overlapping.

Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) were early humans who lived in Europe from about 400,000 years ago until 30,000 years ago. Neanderthals would have looked different from our own species of humans, but maybe not very different! Their bones show they were short and strong, meaning they were well adapted to living during the ice age, when it was much colder than it is today.

The last Neanderthals lived in Europe at the same time as our own species (Homo sapiens).

Although they eventually died out, genetic evidence shows that we all have some Neanderthals amongst our ancestors.

Neanderthals were intelligent humans, but different from our own species.

They were capable of communicating, probably undertook ritual activities and may have produced art.

Models of a Neanderthal (left) and an early modern human (right) © Natural History Museum

Handaxes were used in the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic by Homo heidelbergensis and Neanderthals. They would have been held in the hand rather than attached to handles, like axes today. Their sharp edges were used for chopping or cutting.

Handaxes were produced by hitting stone nodules with stone, antler or bone hammers.

This process is known as knapping. Flint was often chosen because it is easily flaked by striking (look at the ridges and the ripples on the surface of the flint in the photograph) but other types of stone were also used.

Some handaxes are very beautiful, which suggests that the other species of humans who made them were not so different from us, with values and interests beyond simply making a tool that worked.

Handaxes were used for half a million years but when modern humans evolved they developed new techniques of knapping stone tools.

Rather than shaping a flint nodule directly, they prepared a ‘core’ from which they could strike long narrow flakes, known as blades. These provided longer cutting edges and were suitable for attaching to handles or ‘hafts’.

Stone tools are often the only parts of very old sites to survive because they do not rot (unlike wood and other plant remains).

Stone tool study is therefore very important to archaeologists of early periods.

Microscopic analysis of cutting edges can sometimes tell us what the tools had been used for.

Palaeolithic hand axes: Artist: Alun Bull © Historic England

Palaeolithic flint handaxe from Boxgrove © AHOB

Britain has not always looked as it does now. During the Palaeolithic there was a succession of cold periods called ice ages or ‘glaciations’, interspersed with warmer periods or ‘interglacials’.

As well as the climatic effects, the appearance of Britain was altered by the physical impact of the glaciers and changing sea levels linked to the expansion or melting of the ice. Not only did the plants and animals that lived here change as it became warmer and colder, but the shape of our coast and the course of our rivers have also changed.

During the Lower Palaeolithic Britain was not an island, it was connected to other European countries: France, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark.

But some time between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago the ridge between England and France was eroded. The remaining area that still joined Britain to the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark is called Doggerland by archaeologists.


An archaeologist inspects the human footprints on the beach at Happisburgh. © Martin Bates

Happisburgh, Norfolk
Happisburgh (pronounced ‘Hays-borough’), on the Norfolk coast, is the site of the oldest human footprints in Europe, and the earliest evidence for humans in Britain.

Stone tools discovered here are dated to between 950,000 and 800,000 years ago.

The footprints were discovered on the beach and have now been destroyed by the sea. Analysis of the prints suggests they were made by a group of five people, probably three adults and two children. They were probably a family group, walking in a muddy estuary. They may belong to an early human species known as Homo antecessor.

Lynford, Norfolk

At Lynford quarry in Norfolk archaeologists found an ancient stream channel containing woolly mammoth bones and Neanderthal stone tools, dating to about 60,000 years ago.

The remains of at least 11 mammoths were found, mostly large males. Humans had broken some bones for marrow and taken others away for their meat. Forty-seven handaxes were found at the site, tools well-suited to cutting meat.

However, we do not know whether people were hunting the mammoths or scavenging animals that had died naturally or been killed by other predators.

Other animals found at Lynford include brown bear, hyena, woolly rhino, reindeer and bison. The environment at the time would have been open grassland with few trees and the winters were very cold.

Mammoth tusks in the stream channel at Lynford during excavation.

Beeches Pit, Suffolk

The first humans evolved in the warmth of Africa.

In order to survive in the cooler climates of Britain and northern Europe our ancestors would have needed clothing and fire to keep them warm.

At Beeches Pit in Suffolk, there is evidence of burning which suggests people were making fires about 400,000 years ago. They were also knapping handaxes, perhaps while they sat by the fireside.

They were living in dense deciduous woodland which would have been cold and dark at times.

Evidence for clothes is even harder to find but we can assume our ancestors wore animal skins or furs to protect them from the cold, as there was no cotton, wool or other fabrics for them to use.

Reconstruction illustration giving an artist's impression of tool-making at an early Upper Palaeolithic hyena den, excavated near Oakham in Rutland, as it may have appeared 30,000 - 40,000 years ago.

Artist: Judith Dobie. c.1995 - c.1999. © Historic England [IC126/008]

A reconstruction of the Upper Palaeolithic campsite on Hengistbury Head.

Hengistbury Head is a site in Dorset which dates to the end of the Palaeolithic period, about 14,000 years ago. Unlike many sites from this period which are preserved in caves, Hengistbury is an open-air campsite from where people could have looked out over their hunting grounds.

Although today it overlooks the sea, this would have been dry land in the Upper Palaeolithic.Hundreds of stone tools have been recovered here, including types of tools found widely across other parts of northern Europe.

Archaeologists can reconstruct how people made their tools by doing a 3D jigsaw to ‘refit’ the pieces struck from a core.

Studying where different types of tools and debris were recovered has suggested that different areas of the site were used for different activities, including making tools and preparing animal skins (‘hides’).

A reconstruction drawing showing a group of Homo heidelbergensis humans in the Boxgrove landscape around 500,000 years ago. Artist Peter Dunn. © Historic England

The oldest human bones from Britain were found at Boxgrove in Sussex. They belong to a human species called Homo heidelbergensis , which was probably the direct ancestor of the Neanderthals . The humans who lived here were tall and muscular.

The Boxgrove site is about 500,000 years old.

Stone handaxes were found, as well as animal bones with marks where they had been chopped up, indicating that humans were butchering the animals.

At this time the site was a watering hole which attracted animals as well as people. Although the climate was similar to today, the animals living around Boxgrove included species now found in Africa, such as lions, hyenas and rhinos, as well as extinct species like giant deer. The people who used this site would have risked animal attacks!

Three pieces of skull from an early Neanderthal were found at Swanscombe, Kent, at different times during the 20th century. The skull fragments were scattered over an area which also produced thousands of handaxes.

At this time people did not usually bury their dead, so human bones only survive by chance. The Swanscombe skull is not very muscular and so it is thought to be from a woman.

The size of this and other skulls means that we know Neanderthal brains were just as large as ours.

The woman lived during a relatively warm period about 400,000 years ago, between the worst of the ice ages.

She lived and died in a landscape of marshes surrounded by grassland, where rhinos and wild cattle grazed, and woods, which harboured fallow deer and straight-tusked elephants.

The interior of the cave system at Kent’s Cavern, Devon.

Kent’s Cavern in Torquay, Devon, has a long history of use and of research. Recent work produced what may be the earliest evidence for our species of modern human in Britain about 40,000 years ago, however, archaeologists are still arguing about the age of this specimen!

Other finds in the cave date from a later occupation 14,000 years ago. These include a rod of mammoth ivory, antler harpoons, bone needles, and various types of stone tools.

Tools from here and Creswell Crags are so similar they may have been made by the same group of people.

These finds suggest Upper Palaeolithic people moved widely across Britain and did not live permanently in caves like Kent’s Cavern.

Instead they would have used the cave temporarily while undertaking other tasks, such as hunting.

Human remains from Gough’s Cave.

© The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

The remains of modern humans from Gough’s Cave in Somerset have revealed a grisly secret.

Around 15,000 years ago some human bodies were being butchered, the bones chewed and cracked for the marrow.

Cups were made out of people’s skulls.

Archaeologists think that the cannibalism and use of the skull cups may have been part of funeral rituals at the time, but we do not know whether people were doing these things to the bodies of their loved ones or their enemies.

The finds from Gough’s Cave show that Palaeolithic people did not always behave like we do today.

People’s beliefs and customs have changed over time just as much as their tools and technology.

Reconstruction of the burial of the ‘Red Lady’ of Paviland

'Red Lady' of Paviland, Gower

One of the most amazing Palaeolithic sites in Britain is a cave in Gower, south Wales, where a young man of our own species was buried around 34,000 years ago.

The site is important because it is a very old example of special treatment of the dead, and the skeleton is well preserved.

The site was discovered nearly 200 years ago by the palaeontologist and clergyman William Buckland. He thought the body was that of a woman because it was wearing jewellery, and wrongly dated it to the Roman period!

The body had been buried in a special way, which no doubt relates to people’s religious beliefs at the time. It was decorated with ground-up red stone (ochre), which was still visible when it was excavated.

Also found with the burial were periwinkle shells and mammoth ivory jewellery.

Creswell Crags cave art. Probably the head of a bird (an Ibis?).

© Historic England [DP030334]

Creswell Crags, Derbyshire

Creswell Crags on the Derbyshire/ Nottinghamshire border is a network of caves with evidence for Middle and Upper Palaeolithic activity by Neanderthal humans and our own species.

On the walls of Church Hole Cave, more than 20 carvings have been identified, including animals, birds and symbols.

These were made by modern humans and date to the end of the Palaeolithic, at least 12,800 years ago, making them Britain’s oldest art. Other Palaeolithic art from the caves includes a beautiful carving of a horse on an animal bone.

The large mammals carved on the cave walls include wild cattle, horse and red deer. Animal bones found in the caves show that modern humans were also trapping Arctic hare for their fur.

During the Mesolithic, sea levels gradually rose.

Doggerland is the name archaeologists have given to an area between Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark which is now under the North Sea.

Doggerland gradually flooded as a result of climate change and sea level rise from the melting of glaciers after the last ice age.

At the start of the Mesolithic Doggerland was a very large area, and would have been lived in by numerous groups.

The area flooded gradually, and finally disappeared about 7500 years ago.

Until that time Doggerland would have provided a connection between Britain and Europe, people would have traded and exchanged things, and might have spoken a common language.

After Britain became an island, they would have needed boats to travel to the continent and there is less evidence for contact.

It is not until the middle of the Mesolithic that Britain finally became an island, about 8000 years ago. After Britain became an island, people would have needed boats to travel to the rest of Europe. As a result archaeologists have found less evidence for contact with the continent during the rest of the Mesolithic.

This next image shows that by about 6,000 years ago the coast of Britain looked much as we would recognise it today.

Mesolithic people hunted wild animals, fished and gathered wild plants.

They would have moved widely, depending on when and where different resources were available. Some sites have evidence for use in particular seasons.

Mesolithic settlements vary greatly in size from small campsites used for anything from a single afternoon or a few months, to areas where large groups gathered at certain times of year.

The reconstruction drawing shows what a Mesolithic camp might have looked like.

The first evidence for houses in Britain comes from this period, but most of our archaeological evidence comes from camps, that are now marked only by scatters of stone tools.

However, these can be very informative about how old the site is and what tasks took place there.

Mesolithic camp. © Historic England

Mesolithic flint-tipped arrow from Sweden, showing how

microliths were hafted © Antiquity

The most characteristic Mesolithic stone tools are called ‘microliths’, which means ‘small stones’.

Microliths can range from a few millimetres long up to about 5cm.

They were made by knocking bits off longer flint blades and come in a range of forms, including narrow rods, triangles and crescents.

Microliths may have been used for a range of tasks, often stuck onto wooden handles using glue made from tree sap.

Archaeologists have found examples of arrowheads made from several triangular microliths stuck onto a wooden arrow shaft.

As well as the small microliths, Mesolithic people also needed larger stone tools, such as axes for woodworking. When the cutting edges of these axes became blunt they could quickly be resharpened by striking another flake (known as a ‘tranchet’ flake) off the edge.

Unlike earlier handaxes Mesolithic axeheads were fixed into handles made of wood. Although they were carefully shaped they were not polished like axes of the Neolithic period.

Extract from DP081187 Mesolithic tranchet stone axe. © Historic England

Barbed points are one of the most famous Mesolithic artefact types.

They are long rods of antler or bone with ‘barbs’ (points projecting backwards from the main point) down one or both sides.

They might have been used as harpoons for fishing, or as spears for hunting large animals on the land.

Barbed bone points. © National Museum of Scotland

Archaeologists building a reconstruction of the Mesolithic house from Howick © ARS Ltd

Howick, Northumberland
Occasionally in the Mesolithic people spent longer periods in one place and built substantial huts or houses. Much of our evidence for these comes from northern parts of Britain, including Howick on the coast of Northumberland, where Mesolithic people were living almost 10,000 years ago.

Mesolithic houses were circular and were built from wooden posts. They were probably home to an extended family, including children, parents, and grandparents or uncles and aunts.

At Howick, the hut was made from a hollow in the ground, about 6m across, containing a central fireplace and a ring of holes that would have held posts. These posts would have been used to hold up the roof and walls – like in the photo shown.

The location of artefacts found in the huts shows that different areas were used for different activities, including food preparation, making stone tools, and sleeping. The excavators found thousands of burnt hazelnuts, which Mesolithic people would have roasted, stored and eaten during the winter.

Oronsay, Inner Hebrides

Mesolithic people living by the coast often collected shellfish for food and discarded the remains in rubbish dumps called shell middens.

Most of these middens are quite small but on the little Hebridean island of Oronsay are a number of large mounded middens, dating to the late Mesolithic around 6000 years ago.

The mounds are composed mainly of limpet shells, but other items found within them include cowrie shells used as jewellery and the bones of various animals including seals, dolphins, fish and sea-birds.

Human bones have also been found in the Oronsay middens, suggesting they may have been used for funerary rituals.

Star Carr site © York University

Star Carr, Yorkshire
Star Carr is an early Mesolithic site near Scarborough in North Yorkshire, which was inhabited not long after the end of the last ice age, around 11,000 years ago. It lies on the shore of a former lake where Mesolithic people built a wooden platform and other structures.

Star Carr is unusual in several ways: it is larger than most Mesolithic sites, which are small hunting camps, while the wet conditions at the edge of the lake have preserved objects of wood and bone which do not normally survive on very old sites. These organic objects include barbed points and antler frontlets.

People would have travelled widely in the landscape around Star Carr to hunt animals, collect antlers, gather plants, and collect flint for making stone tools.

Underwater remains from the Mesolithic site at Bouldnor Clliffs under excavation.

© Maritime Archaeology Trust and Roland Brooks

Bouldnor Cliff, Isle of Wight

Bouldnor Cliff is an underwater site off the Isle of Wight. Because the site was submerged by rising seas about 8000 years ago, wooden remains are preserved, as well as stone tools.

Some of the wood has evidence of Mesolithic carpentry techniques, which is very rare.

The waterlogging at the site has also preserved evidence of food remains, and the use of plants to make fibres --- Mesolithic string!

Because the site is in shallow water it has been excavated by maritime archaeologists using diving equipment.

This approach is very specialised, and requires a lot of training.

Here you can see a maritime archaeologist using a frame to record the locations of finds.

IC0095/068 Simple reconstruction illustration depicting new and old timber posts erected to the north-west of Stonehenge in the Mesolithic era, between circa 8500BC and circa 7000BC.

Stonehenge and Blick Mead, Wiltshire

The area where Stonehenge was later built saw some significant activity in the Mesolithic period and it is possible that this may help explain why the site was so important in later periods.

During construction of a car-park near the stones, archaeologists found a group of very large post-holes that held large timbers of pine at different times during the Mesolithic.

It is possible that these posts would have been carved like totem poles.

Nearby, at a site called Blick Mead, many thousands of stone tools have been found near a spring which would have formed a convenient location for settlement.

Nomadic Mesolithic people probably gathered here seasonally.

Mesolithic burial practices at Aveline’s Hole imagined by an artist.

© English Heritage [IC035_015]

Aveline’s Hole cave, Somerset

Aveline’s Hole cave in Somerset is the largest Mesolithic cemetery in Britain. It was used between about 8400 and 8200 BC.

The cave was excavated in the 19th century when skeletons of 50 or more Mesolithic people were found, although many of the remains have since been lost.

As well as the bones of people, beads made from animal teeth and shells, a red mineral, and fossils were recovered. These may be from the clothes or jewellery of the people buried in the cave, or might have been specially selected to be buried with them.

Recently discovered carved rock art from the cave may also belong to the Mesolithic period.

March Hill. © Seren Griffiths

March Hill, West Yorkshire

This area of the South Pennines was a focus for late Mesolithic groups. People were present at sites like March Hill for at least 1000 years from around 7000 to 6000 years ago.

We do not believe that people were living up here permanently, but thousands of tiny microliths are found all over the hills, especially at locations overlooking small, narrow valleys.

These might have been good look-outs for hunting.

The types of stone used here to make tools come from the east and west coasts of northern England.

Mesolithic people camping in the Pennines might have travelled widely to collect good stone, or could have swapped things for it with other groups.

The Neolithic marks the beginning of farming in Britain, around 4000 BC, and ends with the appearance of bronze-working around 2200 BC

Bouldnor Cliff, Isle of Wight


Farming in Neolithic Britain depended mainly on livestock (cattle, sheep and pigs) and grains (wheat and barley). There were no chickens or turkeys!

All these domestic species were brought from the continent in small boats.

Archaeologists still debate how many people came over with them, and where they came from.

We know from animal bones found during excavations that in the early Neolithic cattle were the most important species.

People probably followed their herds in a nomadic fashion, not too different from Mesolithic hunter-gatherers.

In the late Neolithic pigs became more important.

In contrast to the Mesolithic, wild animals were rarely exploited, although antler was used to make picks for digging. People ate very little fish and some archaeologists believe there was a taboo because rivers were sacred.

Neolithic settlement at Durrington Walls, Wiltshire, in 2500BC.

By Peter Lorimer © Historic England. [IC095_082]

It is the first time that people start deliberately planting and harvesting crops. However, growing crops appears to have been less important in the Neolithic than herding animals, though there are a few sites where large quantities of grain have been found.

People also ate a lot of wild hazelnuts, as they had done in the Mesolithic.

Eating cereals required a lot of hard work ploughing and planting seeds, harvesting the grains, cleaning and processing them to make flour.

People needed new tools for this such as sickles and grinding stones.

They may also have made beer for the first time.

Neolithic grain production © Historic England Photo Library Ref:J930178

As well as the first evidence for farming, in the form of domesticated plants and animals, people also made pottery for the first time.

Although they continued to use stone tools, they had new techniques for producing axes (polished stone).

We have more evidence for houses in the Neolithic, as well as new types of site used for burials, gatherings and ceremonies, which archaeologists refer to as ‘monuments’.

People started using pottery for the first time in the Neolithic. The pots were handmade (not on wheels) and fired in simple pits or bonfires.

Bits of stone or shell were added to strengthen the clay and help stop it breaking when it was fired. These can help archaeologists tell where pottery came from.

Early pottery was not very strong and was easily broken but it meant that people could cook and store food in different ways. Microscopic residues extracted from pottery fragments show that many pots contained dairy products.

Neolithic pottery was often decorated, which might have been an important way of showing which groups people belonged to.

Sometimes pottery fragments and other rubbish were disposed of in special ways, usually in small pits.

These traditions reflected important beliefs which are very different from modern treatment of rubbish.

Even broken pottery might have been powerful or magical in the Neolithic world.

A reconstruction drawing of Neolithic pottery from Windmill Hill. © Historic England.

Stone tools: Polished axes

Neolithic people made stone and flint axes in a different way to Mesolithic people.

After using hammer stones to knap a nodule and produce a rough shape, the axes were ground or polished to produce a sharp edge and the smooth shape shown here.

These axes were mounted onto wooden handles and could be used for chopping and cutting.

They were also impressive objects that might have been important for the status of people in the past.

To have one of these axes might have made other people think you were important, powerful, brave or wise.

Stone axes were traded widely across Britain, which also shows how important they were.

Some are so delicate they must never have been used.

In these cases, the practical usefulness of these objects might have been less important than using them as status symbols.

Neolithic polished stone axe. © Historic England

As well as pottery and stone, Neolithic people would have made objects out of wood and other organic materials, but these rarely survive.

Examples of Neolithic woodworking have been found at Etton causewayed enclosure near Peterborough, including an axe haft and a bowl.

There are also a number of wooden finds from the Thames including a club from Chelsea (which looks like a modern rounders bat) and a small statue of a human figure from Dagenham.

Two finds made recently near Carlisle, Cumbria, are very rare wooden ‘tridents’ found in an ancient river channel.

The tridents are 6000 years old. They were made from planks of oak wood, and with the handles (which are not shown in the image) they would have been nearly 2m long.

Archaeologists are not sure what the tridents were for.

On the left is a picture of the trident in the ground, on the right is a reconstruction Detail © Oxford Archaeology North

A Neolithic house at the Skara Brae village © Sharon Soutar

Skara Brae, Orkney
Unlike the longhouses of the early Neolithic, the later part of the period saw a different style of house – roughly square with rounded corners and about 5 x 5 m in area.

At Skara Brae in Orkney the well-preserved houses were built of stone and connected by passageways.

The houses also had stone furniture, including cupboards or ‘dressers’ at one end, box ‘beds’ at either side, and a central square fireplace.

A rock art panel on Doddington Moor.

© Historic England. [aa045828]

Doddington Moor, Northumberland

In some areas of Britain, where suitable rocks are exposed, Neolithic rock art is found. One good example is on Doddington Moor in Northumberland.

There are a number of rock art sites here, where Late Neolithic people carved patterns and motifs, mostly ‘cup and ring marks’ where carved rings surround one or more small depressions or cups.

These types of motif are found across Britain, and from countries along the Atlantic coast of Europe. Over 5000 cup and ring mark sites are known from Britain.

As far as we can tell, the rock art does not depict actual things, such as humans or animals, maps or the stars. They may have served as signposts in the landscape or held some unknown, possibly sacred, meaning for the prehistoric people who made and looked at them.

A Neolithic axe factory at Langdale, showing quarrying waste in front of the rock face. © Mark Edmonds

Langdale axe factories, Cumbria

The Langdales are hills and mountains in the Lake District. They were the location of Neolithic stone quarries known as axe factories. The waste stone from this process can still be seen at these sites today.

Langdale stone is very good for producing polished stone axes, but it also has a distinctive green colour.

A green axe from the Alps, Switzerland, had been brought all the way to the Sweet Track in Somerset, so the colour and other properties of Langdale axes were probably important too.

Getting to the axe quarries would have been risky and dangerous, and the stories about your adventures getting there would have impressed people.

The journey might have been as important as the stones you brought back!

Conserved Neolithic wood from the Sweet Track. © Trustees of the British Museum

The Sweet Track (named after Mr Sweet, the peat digger who discovered it) is the oldest wooden trackway known in Britain. It was built across a marsh in Somerset.

As shown in the picture here, long poles were driven into the marsh so they could support planks for people to walk on.

Archaeologists used tree-ring dating to find out that the track was built in the winter of 3807-3806 BC.

The track was not just a way of crossing a marsh. Objects found next to the track suggest that Neolithic people performed ceremonies here.

The finds included a green stone axe from the Alps, pottery and a wooden bowl.

Another Neolithic trackway in Somerset produced a carved human figure made of ash wood.Such finds show that Neolithic people’s beliefs about water and the landscapes they moved through may have been very different from our own.

Reconstruction of one of the houses at Horton. © Wessex Archaeology

Neolithic people lived in very different types of houses to those found in the Mesolithic. They were still mostly constructed from wood, but varied in shape and size.

In the early Neolithic some people built timber halls or longhouses which were rectangular in shape, and sometimes very big!

It seems likely that these large buildings were not ordinary dwellings but more like village halls or community centres.

Four early Neolithic houses (3700BC) were found at Kingsmead Quarry, Horton, Berkshire. The largest was 15m x 7m in size.

Inside archaeologists found pottery, flint tools and arrowheads, a rubbing stone for grinding grain and charred food remains.

Grimes Graves flint mines. © Historic England [15717/27]

This is an aerial photograph of the Grimes Graves flint mines in Norfolk. You can see how big the site is by looking at the cars in the car park on the right. Each of the depressions to the left of these is a Neolithic mine.

At least 433 shafts were dug to mine flint from deep underground.

The biggest were 14m deep and 12m wide. Neolithic people had no metal tools, and used antler picks and stone tools to dig. They may have used torches of burning branches and animal fat.

Most of the mining at Grimes Graves took place between 2600 and 2400 BC.

The flint dug out of the mine shafts would have been used for stone tools, including polished axes.

Mining flint would have been a dangerous undertaking. Some of the shafts seem to have been the sites of ceremonies, perhaps to ensure success or luck.

Carn Brea. © Seren Griffiths.

Carn Brea is a Neolithic hilltop (or Tor) enclosure in Cornwall, equivalent to the causewayed enclosures found in other areas of Britain.

The site was in use for a long time, at least until the Iron Age, but the first time people came there was in the early Neolithic.

The site was enclosed by a stone wall, ramparts and ditches. Within the enclosure were several flat areas where houses were built. Evidence for burning and finds of hundreds of flint arrowheads suggest the site was attacked. Similar evidence came from the causewayed enclosure at Crickley Hill in Gloucestershire.

Pottery found at Carn Brea was made with a distinctive type of stone, which comes from about 30 km away. People living here might have traded this pottery with communities living far to the east in Wessex.

Thornborough Henges. © Historic England

Thornborough Henges, Yorkshire

Henges were circular enclosures used in the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age. They usually have a large ditch with a bank outside.

At Thornborough in Yorkshire a group of three large henges, each about 240 m across, form an impressive alignment stretching for over 1.5 km. Henges had fewer entrances than the earlier causewayed enclosures. This might have meant that only certain people were allowed inside.

At Thornborough there is little evidence of what took place inside but some henges elsewhere contained structures such as circles of upright stones or timber posts.

If henge ditches were built for defence we would expect them to be outside the banks, so instead these sites might have been used for special ceremonies. It has even been suggested that they were built this way to keep ghosts or spirits inside!

West Kennet long barrow. © Historic England [24861_021]

West Kennet is an example of a type of early Neolithic burial monument called a long barrow. The barrow is a large mound of soil about 100m long and 25m wide at its east end.

Inside the mound at this end are a passage and five chambers built out of stone, where the bones of about 36 people were buried in around 3600 BC.

Long barrows and chambered tombs of different kinds are found all across Britain. Not all had large stone chambers filled with bones like West Kennet some contained timber burial structures or had no burials at all.

Some locations have groups of monuments which suggest these areas were special places in the Neolithic. The landscape around West Kennet includes other important Neolithic monuments such as Windmill Hill and Avebury.

Around the same time that long barrows were in use, Neolithic people also constructed large enclosures defined by banks and ditches. These earthworks were dug in sections, with the gaps between them allowing people and animals to enter. These are the ‘causeways’ which give the sites their name.

Over 70 causewayed enclosures were constructed in Britain, mostly in the south, between 3700 and 3500 BC. They were not occupied all the time. Neolithic people probably met there seasonally to do things such as settle arguments, trade cattle or get married.

At Windmill Hill, near Avebury, archaeologists found deposits of animal bones in the ditches that may be the remains of feasts.

At Hambledon Hill in Dorset, human remains were de-fleshed and buried as part of complex funeral rituals.

A reconstruction drawing of the Windmill Hill causewayed enclosure. By Judith Dobie © Historic England [e870088.tif]

Stonehenge Cursus. © Historic England [27527_029]

Stonehenge Cursus, Wiltshire

Cursus monuments are long and narrow earthwork enclosures that were built between 3600 and 3000 BC. They range in size from about 100m to almost 10km long but they usually contain very few finds so their purpose is hard to discover.

However, they are often thought of as processional ways, through which people crossed sacred or important parts of the landscape.

Few cursus monuments survive as visible monuments above ground but one exception is the Greater Stonehenge Cursus, which is around 3 km long.

When the archaeologist William Stukeley noticed this monument in the 18th century he thought it was a Roman arena and gave it the Latin name for a chariot race track - cursus!

Avebury with Silbury Hill in the background, in snow © Historic England [NMR 15403/11]

Avebury and Silbury Hill, Wiltshire

The first henges were probably constructed in Orkney around 3000 BC, but the largest are found in southern England, at Avebury, Marden and Durrington Walls in Wiltshire, and Mount Pleasant in Dorset.

The henge bank and ditch at Avebury enclose an area of over 400 m across and the ditch is 11 m deep. Britain’s largest stone circle follows the inner edge of the ditch.

Outside Avebury are a number of related monuments, including two avenues of standing stones that would have guided visitors to the henge entrances.

1 km south of Avebury is the great mound of Silbury Hill, which was built around 2400 BC, a few hundred years after the henge.

While we know a lot about how and when Silbury Hill was constructed no-one is sure why it was built.

Top right inset: Reconstructions of houses from Durrington Walls (right). © Historic England.

Neolithic settlement at Durrington Walls, Wiltshire, in 2500BC. Reconstruction drawing by Peter Lorimer © Historic England. [IC095_082]

Durrington Walls, Wiltshire

At Durrington Walls in Wiltshire recent excavations uncovered remains of houses that were very similar in plan but made of timber and chalk.

These discoveries show that there were connections between the north and south of Britain 4500 years ago, and that people in different areas used the materials available to them to build similar-looking homes.

Stonehenge. © Historic England.

Stonehenge is probably the most famous prehistoric monument in Britain. It has a long and complicated history of construction from the Neolithic to the early Bronze Age.

The site includes outer circles and inner horseshoe arrangements of massive sarsen stones, brought from about 30 km away, and smaller bluestones from south Wales, 240 km away. These were put up around 2500 BC.

The stones are unique in a number of ways, including their shaping, the lintels that join the tops of the upright stones, and the distance they were brought. Some archaeologists think the bluestones were transported all that way because they were believed to have healing properties.

Surrounding the stone circle is a circular ditch and bank that was first constructed around 3000 BC. For much of the period, before the stones arrived, the site was used as a cemetery.

Reconstruction drawing of what the Amesbury Archer might have looked like. © Wessex Archaeology

The Amesbury Archer, Wiltshire

The Amesbury Archer was buried near Stonehenge in the late Neolithic. He was an important person, possibly a metalworker. Finds buried with him included Beaker pots, archery equipment (hence his name), copper knives and metalworking tools. His two gold hair ornaments are the oldest evidence for gold in Britain. His hair may have been dreadlocked.

At the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age, metalworking was a specialist task and closely guarded secret. People may have thought it included magical processes.

Specialists like the Archer may have been seen as powerful and dangerous.

Scientific analysis of his teeth shows the Archer grew up in Europe, in the Alps.

Another burial nearby was of a close male relative (perhaps his son) who grew up in Britain.

These findings show that some people travelled long distances across Europe at this time, which may have added to their prestige.

The Bronze Age dates from the first appearance of bronze in around 2200 BC to the introduction of iron around 800 BC.

Bronze is a mixture of copper and tin, making it much harder and more useful than the pure copper found with the Amesbury Archer.

Windmill Hill causewayed enclosure


Metal objects were usually cast in moulds. They include tools (especially axes), weapons and ornaments. Bronze axes look very different to the stone axes produced in the Mesolithic and Neolithic and were much sharper than stone.

Metal axes were given their shape by making a mould and then pouring molten metal into it.

There were many different shapes of axe head and different ways of fixing them to wooden handles. As well as axes, a range of other items were produced in bronze, including tools (chisels, sickles), weapons (swords, spearheads) and ornaments (pins, rings).

The Great Orme, Llandudno, is the site of a 4000-year-old copper mine. Copper ore (rock rich in metal minerals) was collected on the surface and in deep underground mine shafts. The mines covered an area of at least 240m by 130m, and were up to 70m deep. 6.5km of Bronze Age tunnels have been identified so far. Over 33,000 bone tools and 2400 stone hammers used for mining have been recovered. Conditions would have been very unpleasant in the narrow tunnels.

Britain was also one of the only sources of tin ore in north-west Europe. Tin is essential to make bronze, and is found in Cornwall and Devon. It would have been traded across Europe in the Bronze Age.

Lots of different types of pottery were used throughout the Bronze Age.

One of the most important – and the earliest - is Beaker pottery, which is usually highly decorated. Beakers are so-called because they are thought to have been used for drinking, possibly beer!

This type of pottery first appeared in the Late Neolithic period and is found across much of western Europe, including in the burial of the Amesbury Archer.

This suggests trade or movement of people across Europe.

In Bronze Age Britain local styles of Beaker pottery developed. Archaeologists mainly find ‘Beaker’ pots in graves, rather than in places where people lived everyday.

Later on, Bronze Age people used other types of pottery, which archaeologists have named after either their shapes (e.g. Collared Urns), what they may have been used for (e.g. Food Vessels), or the places they were discovered (e.g. Deverel-Rimbury ware).

In the early Bronze Age human burials were often covered by large circular mounds of earth or stone, known as round barrows.

Many barrows are surrounded by a ditch and in some cases where the mounds have been destroyed by modern ploughing these ring-ditches are all that survive.

Round barrows are very common across many parts of Britain. For example, there are over 350 in the landscape around Stonehenge.

At first most of the people buried under round barrows were buried as whole bodies in a crouched position, sometimes in a coffin. Over time cremation became more common, with the ashes being collected and put in a pottery urn, which was often placed upside down within the barrow.

The origins of our countryside of villages, fields, hedgerows and trackways lie in the middle part of the Bronze Age, around 1500 BC.

This is when field systems were laid out and the first roundhouses built.

In many areas these small Bronze Age fields have long since been replaced but in some places prehistoric field patterns still survive.

At Halshanger Common, Devon, remains of Bronze Age fields are preserved, with banks running in long parallel lines across the photographs.

The individual fields are then divided within these strips, so they look a bit like brickwork in a wall.

Within the area of the fields on Halshanger Common are seven settlements (villages), the largest with at least 15 stone roundhouses, a type of house typical of the late Bronze Age and Iron Age (see Grimspound).

Seahenge before its excavation.

© Historic England Ref:N990007

As well as round barrows other types of circular monument are found in the early Bronze Age. ‘Seahenge’, on the north coast of Norfolk, is a timber circle with an upturned tree (with the roots in the air) at its centre. Because the site was waterlogged archaeologists were able to work out that the ropes used to move the tree trunk into place were made from twisted stands of honeysuckle.

The outer ring was built of split oak tree trunks, with the bark facing outwards. A ‘Y’ shaped timber formed the entrance to the circle and access to the centre was probably restricted to only certain people. Tree-ring and radiocarbon dating (as used at the Neolithic Sweet Track) show that the circle was built in 2049 BC.

Marks from at least 50 different bronze axes have been found on the timbers.

Since these axes would have been quite rare at the time they suggest the act of building the circle brought a wide community together. Bronze axes have also been found on the beach nearby.

A decorated prehistoric canoe from Must Farm.

© Cambridge Archaeological Unit.

Must Farm and Flag Fen, Cambridgeshire

Some of the most remarkable Bronze Age finds have come from the Fens near Peterborough. At Must Farm a settlement was built on a timber platform on an old river bank. Around 900-800 BC it burnt down and fell into the river channel, where many fragile objects have been preserved, such as pots which still contain food.

Further along the river a group of nine Bronze Age logboats were found, along with fish traps and metal objects.

Nearby at Flag Fen a 1km-long timber causeway was built across the wetland. Part of this was made into a wooden platform, around which hundreds of pots, metal and stone objects were deposited, probably for ceremonial reasons.

The activity in the wetlands began c 1750 BC, and went on for about 1200 years. On the dry ground at Fengate finds of Bronze Age fields and roundhouses indicate that people were living and farming nearby.

The preserved Dover boat in The Bronze Age Boat Gallery.

© Copyright Dover Museum and Bronze Age Boat Gallery

The Dover Boat is over 3500 years old and was built to cross the sea. Only part of the boat was found during excavation but it is estimated to have been up to 15m long. It would have been propelled by paddles and may have travelled along the coast and across the English Channel to trade goods such as bronze, shale, pottery or livestock.

The boat was made of wooden planks, which were held together by thin twisted pieces of wood (‘withies’) and wedges. This meant the boat was much wider than log boats like those from Must Farm. The trees used to make the Dover Boat were about 350 years old when they were cut down.

Similar types of boat have also been found in the Humber estuary in Yorkshire.

Top - Grimspound. © Historic England. [aa008409]

Bottom – reconstruction drawing of Grimspound by Ivan lapper. © Historic England. [IC047_002]

Grimspound, on Dartmoor in Devon is a later Bronze Age village, lived in between about 3500 and 3000 years ago. The stone foundations of 24 round huts excavated at the end of the 19th century are still visible.

These huts would have been covered with conical roofs of turf or thatch. The people who lived in them would have cooked on a central fireplace.

The village was surrounded by a large boundary wall enclosing an area about 150m across. It is more likely to have been used to keep animals in or out than for defence. The people living at Grimspound were farmers who kept livestock and grew crops. At this time the soils on Dartmoor were more fertile than they are today.

In other parts of Britain Bronze Age roundhouses were usually built of timber rather than stone and do not survive as visible features today, except when excavated by archaeologists.

Cliffs End Farm, Ramsgate. © Wessex Archaeology

At Cliffs End Farm, Ramsgate, Kent, a group of burials were found in a large pit.

The first burial in the pit was that of an elderly woman who had been killed, perhaps as a sacrifice. There were several other complete skeletons as well as just scattered bits of human bone. All of these people lived – and died, in the late Bronze Age, around 3000 years ago. Also within the pit were the bones of cattle, lambs and a buzzard. More burials took place here a few centuries later in the Iron Age.

Scientific analysis of the human bones has shown that there were three groups of people: some were local, some came from Scandinavia and some from southern Europe this was largely a cemetery for migrants. Along with older examples, like the Amesbury Archer, this shows that some people travelled long distances across Europe in the Bronze Age.

The ‘Near Lewes’ hoard. © Trustees of the British Museum

This group of objects was found ‘near Lewes’ in Sussex. Dating to around 1400-1250 BC, it is known as a ‘hoard’. Hoards are collections that archaeologists believe were buried together as ceremonial offerings, or to keep valuable things safe.

At Lewes more than 50 objects - bronze axes, bronze torcs (neck or arm rings), finger rings, gold discs, pins, bracelets and necklaces with amber and ceramic beads - were buried in a pot.

The hoard includes axes local to the Brighton area, and things from France, Germany and the Baltic, showing the importance of cross-Channel trade at this time, and suggesting that the hoard had great importance to the people who buried it.

Objects from the cist at Whitehorse Hill.

© Dartmoor National Park Authority

A very well preserved set of grave goods was recently found in a square stone burial chest (‘cist’) within a natural peat mound on Dartmoor. The cist contained the cremated bones of a 15-25 year old person, probably a female, who died between 3900 and 3700 years ago.

The bones had been wrapped in a bearskin and placed on a layer of purple moor grass.There was also a basket containing a woven band with tin studs, 200 beads of shale, amber, clay and tin, two pairs of turned wooden ear studs and a flint tool.

These objects are very rare and include things traded from a very long way off. Although young, the person buried here was clearly very important, perhaps part of a leader’s family.

The Mold gold cape. © Trustees of the British Museum

The cape was found by 19th century workmen digging for stone in an old burial mound in Mold, Flintshire, North Wales.

It is 3900 to 3600 years old. The shape means that you would not be able to move your arms very well, so it was probably used for ceremonies, rather than everyday wear!

The cape was too small to be for a man – it would only fit a smallish woman or a child, and they were probably very important.

The cape would have been hammered out of a gold lump. The decoration looks like strings of jewellery or folds of cloth, and would have been hammered into the gold sheet. Lots of amber beads, maybe between 200 and 300, were also in the grave, but many of these and the bones from the grave have been lost.

Iron tools and weapons are found for the first time, while gold and other metals continued to be used for jewellery and ornaments.

Towards the end of the period coins started to be made.

People lived in roundhouses like those of the Bronze Age but settlements became bigger.

Some sites have evidence for defence, such as hillforts and brochs.


The Holmfield Iron Age chariot burial: the skeleton of a man lies between the wheels of a chariot buried in a large pit. © Oxford Archaeology.

Plan of the Wetwang Slack burial. © Trustees of the British Museum.

We have very little evidence of human burial from the Iron Age compared to earlier and later periods. But in the Yorkshire Wolds people buried their dead in large cemeteries of square barrows

(as opposed to the Round Barrows of the Bronze Age).

While most people were buried with only a pot, or a brooch, or nothing at all, some richer graves have been found including a number of ‘chariot burials’ (though the chariot would have been more like a wagon).

One such burial of an Iron Age woman who died 2300 years ago was excavated at Wetwang Slack. She was buried with a mirror, a joint of meat, and the chariot, which was taken apart and placed with her. Archaeologists have speculated about why she was buried like this. She might have been a chief, a religious person, someone with special skills, or perhaps she was special or different for other reasons.

Lindow Man. © Trustees of the British Museum

The body of a late Iron Age man was found in Lindow bog, Cheshire. It is very unusual to find human remains, except bones, but in this case the bog preserved the skin, hair, and insides of the man, who was about 25 years old when he died. He had a beard and a moustache, and neat fingernails. Food preserved in his stomach included bread made from wheat and barley.

Other ‘bog bodies’ have been found at Lindow and elsewhere in Britain, but they are more common in Ireland and Denmark. Some people found in bogs died naturally, but others, including Lindow man, had suffered violent deaths.

It is possible that Lindow man was killed as part of a religious ceremony. He might have been a priest or person of some importance.

One of the Snettisham Iron Age hoards.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Snettisham hoards, Norfolk

Hoards similar to those found in the Bronze Age continued to be deposited in the Iron Age. Some of these are clustered at particular ritual sites where spectacular finds have been made (see also Hallaton).

At Snettisham, Norfolk, 11 metal hoards have been found within a large enclosure. They included gold and silver ‘torcs’, coins and metal ‘ingots’ that may have been used as money. The Snettisham hoards were buried around 70 BC.

This picture shows a group of torcs. The one on the left was made from 1kg of twisted strands of gold and silver. The complicated ends were cast in moulds. The objects had been buried in a very specific order which suggests a ceremonial deposit or offering.

Torcs were a type of ornament worn around the neck. Unlike modern necklaces they would have been difficult to put on or take off.

Maiden Castle. © Historic England Ref:IC064_013

There are over 1000 hillforts in England and Wales. These are enclosures surrounded by ramparts and are usually found, as the name suggests, on hilltops. Some of them, like Danebury in Hampshire, have lots of evidence for settlement inside while others may only have been used temporarily, or for keeping animals.

Archaeologists do not agree on whether defence was the main purpose of hillforts or if they were simply designed to look impressive. In either case, constructing a hillfort would have required organisation, manual skills, labour and leaders.

Maiden Castle in Dorset is the largest hillfort in Britain. It was in use from the 4th century BC until the Roman conquest. It is surrounded by steep ramparts and at one time was inhabited by several hundred people. Fewer people lived there by the time the Romans arrived, but a small cemetery contains the bones of people who may have been killed fighting the Romans, including one skeleton with a catapult bolt in his spine.

© Trustees of the British Museum

The Battersea Shield, London

The Battersea shield was found in the River Thames. It probably dates to the 2nd or 1st century BC. It is 80 cm long and is made from sheets of bronze covering a wooden shield.Because of the very thin metal and its fine red enamel (glass) decoration it was probably not designed to be used in battle. Instead it may have been made as a ‘status symbol’, to impress people with how important its owner was. It might have been put into the river as an offering to the gods.

The swirly ‘Celtic’ decorations, called the La Tène style after a site in Switzerland, are found on other Iron Age metalwork over a large area of Europe.

Llyn Cerrig Bach is a lake on Anglesey where numerous metal objects were deposited for ceremonial purposes between about 300 BC and AD 100. This collection includes swords, spearheads, a bronze trumpet, pieces of a wagon, horse harnesses, and a cauldron.

The collection also includes two sets of chains. The big links probably went round the necks of people who may have been slaves. We know from Roman writers that some British people were traded as slaves in the Roman Empire.We do not know why the chains were deposited here but they may have been an offering to the gods. Deposits in wet places (rivers, lakes and bogs) were common in the Bronze Age and Iron Age other examples include Flag Fen and Lindow Moss.

Glastonbury Lake Village when it was first excavated. © Historic England Ref:BB72/02822

Glastonbury Lake Village, Somerset

Glastonbury Lake Village was an Iron Age settlement in Somerset, built in a swamp on an artificial island about 100m across. People lived there between about 250 and 80 BC, after which the site was gradually abandoned, perhaps because of flooding or because the river channels became blocked.

The site was excavated between 1892 and 1907. The wet conditions had preserved the timbers from many roundhouses (up to 14 at any one time), a surrounding fence and a landing stage for boats.

The village may have been home to as many as 200 people, who raised sheep and grew cereals but also ate wild plants and animals from the wetlands.

Finds from the site are numerous and provide evidence for manufacture and trade as well as daily life. They include pottery, tools for making fabric and sharpening knives, materials for metalworking, a wooden frame for stretching animal skins, baskets and parts of a cart.

Hallaton coin hoard, Leicestershire

At Hallaton in Leicestershire amateur archaeologists found an open-air hilltop shrine, containing Iron Age coin hoards, parts of Roman helmets and remains of feasting. It was in use around the time of the Roman invasion of Britain in the 1st century AD.

Rather like Snettisham the rituals carried out here involved the deliberate burial of a number of hoards of metalwork, in this case mostly coins.

In total more than 5000 Iron Age coins were found, more than had been found in the entire region up to that time! But perhaps the most impressive find was a Roman cavalry helmet with silver decoration.

Other activities on the hill included feasting on sacrificed pigs, as shown by a mass of bones found buried by the entrance, which was symbolically guarded by dog burials.

Carn Euny. © Historic England.

Carn Euny is an Iron Age village in Cornwall. The site was occupied for circa 500 years, from the 5th century BC. People lived in roundhouses with stone foundations, walls were made from woven wood panels covered in clay (‘wattle and daub’), and thatched roofs were supported by wooden posts.

On the site now you can also see drainage gullies, and holes for the wooden posts. The site is unusual because of a well-preserved underground stone tunnel known as a ‘fogou’, which is roofed with large stone slabs.

We do not know what the tunnel was used for. It might have been for storage, or to hide in, or for ceremonies. Similar underground tunnels are found at Iron Age settlements in other parts of north west Europe.

Gurness Broch. © Historic Environment Scotland.

In western Scotland hillforts were not built in the Iron Age. Instead defended settlements with towers are found, these are called brochs.

The Broch of Gurness in Orkney is one of the best preserved examples of this type of settlement.The village began between 500 and 200 BC, and was abandoned after AD 100. It covered an area 45m in diameter, and was surrounded by deep ditches and ramparts. A circular tower was built, and later surrounded by stone houses with yards and sheds. The houses have a large central room and stone furniture.

The broch tower was probably the home of an important farming family. A central fire, stone furniture, and a well are present in the broch. The walls are very thick and the tower could have provided a defence against other groups.

Stonehenge transformed

This is the first phase of English Heritage’s £27million project to transform the visitor experience of the iconic site, made possible by a £10m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and substantial gifts from the Garfield Weston Foundation, The Linbury Trust and the Wolfson Foundation.

Visitors will be able to see original objects used in its construction and those connected with Neolithic and Bronze Age men and women, their lives, their rituals and daily struggles. The reconstructed face of a 5,500 year-old man buried in a long barrow 1.5 miles from Stonehenge – the most advanced reconstruction of a Neolithic man’s face to date - is a highlight.

A special exhibition will display important objects, never seen together before, that tell the story of the changing understanding of Stonehenge over centuries. These include two rare 14th-century manuscripts which are among the earliest known drawings of the monument, Roman coins and jewellery, and early surveying equipment.

A 360-degree virtual experience will let visitors ‘stand in the stones’ before they enter the gallery. This three-minute film, based on state-of-the-art laser scan images of the stone circle, will transport the viewer back in time through the millennia and enable them to experience the summer and winter solstices.

Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive, English Heritage, said: “At last, visitors to Stonehenge will be able to get a sense of the people who built this monument, of their lives, their deaths and their ceremonies. Visitors will, for the first time, learn the astonishing history of the stones and will see objects, many never seen before, that will bring the stones to life.

“Instead of just a stopover or a quick photo opportunity, we want our visitors to step back in time and into the shoes of those who created and used this extraordinary place, to marvel at original everyday objects they used, to walk the surrounding landscape as they did, and to sit in the dwellings that they would have built. It makes the real encounter with the stones themselves so much more exciting.”

Culture Secretary Maria Miller said: “Stonehenge is one of the UK’s most iconic sites, undeniably worthy of its UNESCO World Heritage status attracting one million tourists every year from the UK and all over the world. So it’s only right that, after decades of indecision, we can now offer them the visitor experience and exhibition centre they deserve. A huge amount of work has gone into getting this right and making sure people can see the stones and their story in a whole new light.”

Bettany Hughes, award-wining author, historian and broadcaster, said: “I have no doubt that those who first constructed Stonehenge did so with awe and with a profound appreciation of the beauty and power of the world around. For millennia men and women have travelled to the site to try to share that experience. Now in the 21st century with the help of these developments, we can appreciate both the intriguing story of the site - and its mystery.”

Early Neolithic man - ancestor of Stonehenge creators
The reconstruction of the early Neolithic face, using forensic evidence derived from skeletal analysis, is the face of a man 25 – 40 years old, of slender build, born about 5,500 years ago - about 500 years before the circular ditch and banks, the first monument at Stonehenge, was built.

He was among those people who were active on Salisbury Plain in early Neolithic Britain and helped to explain why people chose this area to erect the stones a thousand years later: the area already held significance. His presence emphasises the fact that Stonehenge is part of a remarkable landscape of prehistoric monuments which visitors can now explore on foot as part of their visit.

Specially trained volunteers will embark on building a group of Neolithic houses in January, complete with furniture and fittings. These will be the highlight of an outdoor gallery, to open at Easter 2014, and are based on evidence of houses excavated at nearby Durrington Walls where the builders of Stonehenge most probably lived.

Experience Stonehenge in a more dignified setting
Visitors will have a heightened sense of anticipation when they arrive at the visitor building as Stonehenge is not visible - it will only emerge slowly on the horizon during the ten-minute shuttle ride to the monument.

At the stone circle, there will be opportunities to walk and explore the surroundings of the monument including the Avenue, Stonehenge’s ancient processional approach, guided by new interpretation panels specially developed with the National Trust.

The Avenue has been reconnected to the stone circle after being severed by the A344 road for centuries. The whole area is now free of traffic, and newly sown grass is establishing on the former route of the road.

A sensitively designed modern building
Designed by leading practice Denton Corker Marshall, the exhibition and visitor centre appears light and unimposing, sensitive to its surroundings and deferential to the stones. The galleries, café, shop and toilets are housed in a pair of single-storey 'pods', sitting beneath an undulating canopy that evokes the gentle rolling plains nearby. Locally sourced, pre-weathered sweet chestnut and Salisbury limestone are among the materials used.

Improvements to visitor facilities include

  • full disability access
  • dedicated education space
  • a bright and spacious café with indoor and outdoor seating for up to 260
  • a bigger shop with a wide range of specially commissioned merchandise
  • a visitors’ carpark with space for 500 vehicles and 30 coaches
  • ample toilets
  • a pre-booked timed ticket system to help minimise queues and avoid over-crowdedness at peak times and
  • new, downloadable and hand held free audio guides in 10 languages

Carole Souter, Chief Executive of HLF, said: “This is a wonderful opportunity to tell the full story of Stonehenge’s past, its present and how it will be understood by future generations. The Heritage Lottery Fund has been working in close partnership with English Heritage and a myriad of other funders and donors to make these imaginative plans a reality. We’re proud to have invested £10m in the exhibition and visitor centre and hope it will capture people’s imaginations and inspire them to learn more about life in both Neolithic and Bronze Age times.”

Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General, the National Trust, said: “As owners of much of the surrounding land, we have supported English Heritage in bringing the Stonehenge landscape together and developing visitors’ understanding of the World Heritage Site as a whole. The removal of the A344 reconnects the monument with the landscape, giving visitors an opportunity to once again appreciate the ancient processional approach up to the stones. The new centre, with its fresh interpretation and displays, will help visitors understand the stones and the Neolithic world of ancient Britain from a different perspective.”

Loraine Knowles, Stonehenge Director, English Heritage, said: “This is a major milestone in a long journey to make the experience of Stonehenge worthy of its iconic world heritage status. When the restoration of the landscape is complete by summer 2014, visitors will be able to enjoy the special atmosphere of this place with far fewer distractions from modern-day sights and sounds. I’d like to thank our partners and the many individuals and organisations who have shared our vision and helped us to achieve this historic event.”

Notes to editors

All the permanent exhibits are on loan from Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, and the Duckworth Laboratory, University of Cambridge. All were found within the World Heritage Site. Temporary loans come from many sources including the British Museum, the British Library, Society of Antiquaries of London, and the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford University.

The Stonehenge Environmental Improvements Project is the largest capital project ever undertaken by English Heritage. It is financed almost entirely by the HLF, English Heritage commercial income and philanthropic donations.

The building is sited 1.5 miles away from Stonehenge to enable the immediate area around the monument to be free of modern structures. Work to demolish the existing facilities and car park and return the area to grass will begin imminently. The restoration of the landscape around Stonehenge will be completed in summer 2014.

Stonehenge exhibition and visitor centre, 1.5 miles from Stonehenge, Wiltshire, SP3 4DX. From 18th December, entrance will be managed through timed tickets and advance booking is strongly recommended. Adult £13.90, Concession £12.50 and Child £8.30 when pre-booked and Adult £14.90, Concession £13.40 and Child £8.90 when bought at the door. For opening hours and online booking, please visit the Stonehenge website.

About English Heritage
English Heritage is the government’s statutory advisor on the historic environment. It is the custodian of over 400 historic monuments, buildings and sites through which we bring the story of England to life for over 10 million visitors each year.

Further information

For press information please contact English Heritage Press Office on +44 207 973 3250, [email protected]

For HLF press office please contact Katie Owen, on 020 7591 6036, out of hours mobile 07973 613 820.

Images of a Tourist

There is a bus shuttle that takes you to the stones from the ticket hall. Cheeky wave from the bus driver – if you’re lucky!

Or instead you can walk across the grassland, where you can discover other prehistoric monuments, including the Avenue and King Barrow Ridge with its Bronze Age burial mounds. The National Trust manages 827 hectares (2,100 acres) of downland surrounding the famous stone circle

First glimpse of the stones. Today, nearly 1 million people visit Stonehenge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, every year

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in Wiltshire, England

One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is the remains of a ring of standing stones set within earthworks

It is in the middle of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England

Archaeologists believe it was built anywhere from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. So was built between roughly 5,000 and 4,000 years ago

There are two types of stone at Stonehenge – the larger sarsen stones and the smaller ‘bluestones’

The larger sarsen stones are a type of sandstone, which is found scattered naturally across southern England. Most archaeologists believe that these stones were brought from the Marlborough Downs, 20 miles (32km) away. There great quantities of sarsens still lie across in the landscape, although their exact origin is not known. On average the sarsens weigh 25 tons, with the largest stone, the Heel Stone, weighing about 30 tons

Bluestone is the term used to refer to the smaller stones at Stonehenge. These are of varied geology but all came from the Preseli Hills in south-west Wales. Although they may not appear blue, they do have a bluish tinge when freshly broken or when wet. They weigh between 2 and 5 tons each

There were probably once 30 stones in this circle, but many have fallen and most of the lintels and a few uprights are missing from the site

The sarsens (larger stones) were erected in two concentric arrangements – an inner horseshoe and an outer circle – and the bluestones (smaller stones) were set up between them in a double arc. About 200 or 300 years later the central bluestones were rearranged to form a circle and inner oval (which was again later altered to form a horseshoe)

The first monument at Stonehenge was a circular earthwork enclosure, built in about 3000 BC. A ditch was dug with simple antler tools, and the chalk piled up to make an inner and an outer bank. Within the ditch was a ring of 56 timber or stone posts

To erect a stone, people dug a large hole with a sloping side. The back of the hole was lined with a row of wooden stakes. The stone was then moved into position and hauled upright using plant fibre ropes and probably a wooden A-frame. Weights may have been used to help tip the stone upright. The hole was then packed securely with rubble. Timber platforms were probably used to raise the horizontal lintels into position. Then, the final stage of shaping the tenons took place, to ensure a good fit into the mortice holes of the lintel

The stones were dressed using sophisticated techniques and erected using precisely interlocking joints, unseen at any other prehistoric monument

Many modern historians and archaeologists now agree that several distinct tribes of people contributed to Stonehenge, each undertaking a different phase of its construction. Bones, tools and other artifacts found on the site seem to support this hypothesis. The first stage was achieved by Neolithic agrarians who were likely indigenous to the British Isles. Later, it is believed, groups with advanced tools and a more communal way of life left their stamp on the site. Some have suggested that they were immigrants from the European continent, but many scientists think they were native Britons descended from the original builders

The main axis of the stones is aligned upon the solstitial axis. At midsummer, the sun rises over the horizon to the north-east, close to the Heel Stone. At midwinter, the sun sets in the south-west, in the gap between the two tallest trilithons, one of which has now fallen. These times in the seasonal cycle were obviously important to the prehistoric people who built and used Stonehenge

Stonehenge has often been at the forefront of the development of archaeology. It has also perhaps been the focus of more theories about its origin and purpose than any other prehistoric monument. These have included a coronation place for Danish kings, a Druid temple, an astronomical computer for predicting eclipses and solar events, a place where ancestors were worshipped or a cult centre for healing

Stonehenge continues to have a role as a sacred place of special religious and cultural significance for many, and inspires a strong sense of awe and humility for thousands of visitors who are drawn to the site every year

Stonehenge does not stand in isolation, but forms part of a remarkable ancient landscape of early Neolithic, late Neolithic and early Bronze Age monuments. Containing more than 350 burial mounds and major prehistoric monuments such as the Stonehenge Avenue, the Cursus, Woodhenge and Durrington Walls, this landscape is a vast source of information about the ceremonial and funerary practices of Neolithic and Bronze Age people. This photo looks out at a few burial mounds

Roman pottery, stone, metal items and coins have been found during various excavations at Stonehenge

Before Stonehenge much of the rest of southern England was largely covered by woodland, the chalk downland in the area of Stonehenge may have been an unusually open landscape. It is possible that this is why it became the site of an early Neolithic monument complex

There were originally only two entrances to the enclosure, English Heritage explains – a wide one to the north east, and a smaller one on the southern side. Today there are many more gaps – this is mainly the result of later tracks that once crossed the monument

The first mention of Stonehenge – or ‘Stanenges’ – appears in the archaeological study of Henry of Huntingdon in about AD 1130, and that of Geoffrey of Monmouth six years later. In 1200 and 1250 it appeared as ‘Stanhenge’ and ‘Stonhenge’ as ‘Stonheng’ in 1297, and ‘the stone hengles’ in 1470. It became known as ‘Stonehenge’ in 1610, says English Heritage

Stonehenge is not a unique structure within Great Britain, more than 900 stone circles have been located in the British Isles however Stonehenge is the largest and most well-known

The road leading back to the car park, visitor centre and Stonehenge exhibition

A reconstruction of a fence that would have been around the landscape in the Stonehenge period

Five Neolithic Houses furnished with replica Neolithic axes, pottery and other artefacts, reveal the type of homes that the builders of the ancient monument might have lived in four and half thousand years ago

You can step inside to imagine how people lived 4,500 years ago

The dwellings situated just outside the visitor and exhibition centre, are surprisingly bright and airy spaces and consist of a single room measuring five metres on each side with white chalk walls and floors designed to reflect sunlight and capture the heat from the fire. When fires are lit, the smoke from the hearth filters up through a thatched roof – knotted or tied straw carefully secured onto a hazel woven frame. Around the walls stands wooden or woven furniture – beds, seating, storage and shelving

The Neolithic Houses help to reconnect the ancient stones with the people that lived and worked in the Stonehenge landscape

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