Tuesday, 19 March 2013


So, the mystery of Stonehenge (who built it, when, why and how) has been solved. 


All archaeologists are in agreement, everyone is happy and we can all return to our homes, leaving the monument to quietly grass over, safe in the knowledge that it will never be probed, prodded or otherwise investigated again.

This, at least, is the impression that British newspapers and news programmes have been giving for the past seven days, following the press release that preceded the Channel 4 documentary "Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons".

The release was suitably modest. "One man believes he has found the vital clues to solve this puzzle" it observed, "and this programme follows him through a series of discoveries that completely rewrite the story of Stonehenge." Just in case we, the audience, were in any doubt as to the earth-shattering significance of all this, the release concluded that "the results completely overturn the accepted view on when Stonehenge was built and what it was built for, providing compelling evidence that it once united the people of Britain". 

It used to be said that every generation gets the Stonehenge it deserves. Now, it seems that, every year, everyone, whether they want it or not, gets the Stonehenge that they were not previously aware of (or didn't actually know they needed). Documentaries, articles, theories and counter-theories concerning the site now emerge with such regularity, that it seems odd if, for one month in any given year, Stonehenge isn't in the news. I've lost count of the recent TV programmes that have stated, with some confidence, that the 'mystery of the stones' has at last 'been solved'. In fact it's all getting just a bit confusing. Is it "a place commemorating the ancestral dead"?; "a place of healing"?; "a solisticial computer"?; "a communal meeting space"?; "a lunar observatory"?, "a burial ground"?; "a house of the gods"?; "a UFO landing site"?; or all of the above (and more besides)

...erm....can I phone a friend?

The problem is, of course, Stonehenge is a pre-historic monument and, in the absence of any contemporary written account outlining function and use, we have to rely purely on archaeological evidence to provide interpretation and, annoyingly, archaeology is never, in itself, all that helpful, for it rarely provides definitive answers (more often than not it simply generates more questions). 

Don't get me wrong; I entirely support the new work being conducted by a variety of British Universities at, in and around Stonehenge (as per my 2011 posting 'Dig For Victory') and I do honestly believe that the results, when finally revealed, will shine a fascinating new light on this, our most famous of ancient monuments. Television, however, is an impatient bedfellow demanding results NOW, with an immediacy that cannot be satisfied by the slow and steady trickle of complex scientific analysis.

The current (TV sponsored) interpretation of Stonehenge is, of course, bolstered by hyperbole in order that Channel 4 can generate higher viewing figures for the programme. Fair enough, we all have to make a living. What worries me is that the new theory, however plausible it may or may not actually be, is presented, not as the latest in a long line of nice (but ultimately unsupportable) theories, but as FACT: solid, immutable and utterly definitive. It isn't (of course it isn't), and I look forward to the next Stonehenge documentary in a year or two that either a) overturns the new conclusions or b) provides a new ‘definitive’ model before which we must all bow down.

After reading the press release, media reports and seeing the TV programme for myself, I can, dear reader, safely conclude, if you were wondering, that Stonehenge, in one of its earlier phases, contained the cremated remains of men, women and, quite possibly, children (as previously established and as found at other sites of the same broad period) and was built a bit earlier than we thought (200 or so years), whilst down the road at Durrington Walls (in a completely different and possibly unassociated monument), some cows, possibly derived from northern Britain, were killed and eaten by some people over a relatively long period of time, during which one of the key phases of monument construction at nearby Stonehenge was completed, the whole monument building complex itself probably coming to an end in what used to be called the 'Beaker period' (as first suggested in the 1920s and 30s).

Glad we got that sorted.


  1. So, just to be clear for next years Channel 5 documentary, what you are saying is that Cow's built Stonehenge - northern cows no less, who burned people to ash to fertilise their pastures, but, eventually after a great battle using ray guys (made from wood which have crumbled away leaving no evidence), the cows were overthrown and eaten by the victorious humans.

    Can we quote you for the programme "Stonehenge, the bovine wars"


    1. No, but you can quote me for
      'Stonehenge: Aporkalypse'
      in which the pigs destroy all other mammals in an attempt to become the dominant species on Salisbury Plain

  2. Stonehenge was in use for hundreds if not thousands of years and seems to have been continually altered and rebuilt. Trying to find its purpose or reason for being seems futile at best. I wish all these overpaid professors would just stay away from it and do something more worthwhile instead!

    1. I'm afraid that I can't comment on professorial pay-scaling (not being one myself) but I do clearly need to develop an amazing theory based around a World Heritage site...any suggestions?