A Secret of Stonehenge Revealed!
The greatest minds and the most high-tech equipment still have not been able to crack the secret of the construction and purpose of England's Stonehenge, but they might be one step closer.
A team that was given permission to dig around the massive stones put in place some 5,000 years ago has determined that it was a burial site, possibly for members of an elite family.
That's the word from Mike Parker Pearson, archaeology professor at the University of Sheffield in England and head of the Stonehenge Riverside Archaeological Project. The Associated Press reports that Stonehenge was used as a burial site for cremated remains as early as 3000 B.C. just as the first ditches around the monument were dug. The burials continued for at least 500 years when the stones were erected. "It's now clear that burials were a major component of Stonehenge in all its main stages," said Parker Pearson in a statement to reporters. "Stonehenge was a place of burial from its beginning to its zenith in the mid-third millennium B.C. The cremation burial dating to Stonehenge's sarsen stones phase is likely just one of many from this later period of the monument's use and demonstrates that it was still very much a domain of the dead."
The team also excavated some of the ancient homes constructed near Stonehenge; there are at least 300 of these homes and perhaps as many as 1,000, which were occupied only in the midwinter and midsummer. "It's a quite extraordinary settlement, we've never seen anything like it before," Parker Pearson said, noting that the village appeared to be a land of the living and Stonehenge a land of the ancestors. The team also found a circle of wooden pillars that are oriented toward the midwinter sunrise. Stonehenge is oriented toward the midsummer sunrise.
For the first time, cremation burials that were dug up in the 1950s were radiocarbon dated by the team. The oldest cremation burial was a small group of bones and teeth that date from 3030 to 2880 B.C., which was about the time the first ditch-and-bank monument was built. Other remains they found included an adult dated to 2930 to 2870 B.C., as well as the remains of a 25-year-old woman that dates to 2570 to 2340 B.C., around the time the first arrangements of large sarsen stones appeared at Stonehenge. It is estimated that up to 240 people were buried at Stonehenge, all of whom were cremated. The researchers hypothesize that everyone buried there is from a single elite family, perhaps a ruling dynasty. Parker Pearson added, "I don't think it was the common people getting buried at Stonehenge--it was clearly a special place at that time. One has to assume anyone buried there had some good credentials."
The research, which was financially supported by the National Geographic Society, is published in an article titled "Stonehenge" in the June 2008 issue of National Geographic magazine.
--From the Editors at Netscape