Stonehenge Trilithons and Durrington Wells Contemporary

SALON - the Society of Antiquaries of London Online Newsletter

Salon 171: 3 September 2007


reports on Mike Parker Pearson's article in Antiquity Volume 81 No. 3 13 September 2007


'Collaborative projects are very much the order of the day, and, according to the latest volume of Antiquity, the team assembled by our Fellow Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield to investigate the landscape around Stonehenge is ‘probably the strongest archaeological team ever assembled’. True or not, it is an appropriate boast given that one of the many competing theories seeking to explain Stonehenge says that it is about the expenditure of resources – like hip-hop artists burning money and travelling everywhere with an expensive entourage, it is a display that says ‘I have an excess of resources’.


In this case, Mike’s mighty entourage consist of nineteen co-authors (nearly all of them Fellows), who are partners in the enterprise to re-examine the monument and its context – The Stonehenge Riverside Project – and study the impact and meaning of the Beaker culture – The Beaker People Project. The success of both projects depends on establishing reliable and precise dates for the various phases of one of Europe’s most complex prehistoric landscapes. In a detailed discussion of the stratigraphy from past excavations, combined with new and increasingly more precise radio-carbon dating techniques, the authors produce a revised Stonehenge chronology, which dates the construction of the trilithons, the grand centrepiece of Stonehenge, at 2600–2400 cal BC.


This means that the trilithons are contemporary with Durrington Walls, and that both pre-date the earliest Beaker burials in Britain – including the famous Amesbury Archer and Boscombe Bowmen – while not ruling out that Britain may already have been receiving Beaker pottery. All this reinforces the interpretation of Durrington Walls as inextricably linked to the sarsen circle and trilithon phase at Stonehenge.


In a somewhat grammatically and syntactically challenged conclusion, the Antiquity paper assesses what this might mean: ‘that both were designed and built as a single development is further strengthened by their complementary differences – one in stone with predominantly Beaker pottery (229 Beaker sherds to 11 of Grooved Ware), cattle bones and human remains, the other in wood with predominantly Grooved Ware, pig bones and a near absence of human remains. Other examples of complementarity are the opposed solstice alignments of Stonehenge and the Durrington Southern Circle, and their similarity in plan, in which an oval arrangement was set within concentric circles. Such a dramatic dichotomy has been viewed as the product of two “cultures” living side by side. But other explanations are perhaps more satisfactory for the time being: that their differentiated but integrated purpose [sic] were opposed stages of a funerary process whereby the dead became ancestors.’'

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